Black History Month starts now

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In honor of Black History Month, Loc’d Life will dedicate its blog to profiles on famous people with locs. This post will highlight artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a modernist abstract painter whose life was cut short by drugs.

I was inspired to do this for Black History after seeing this poster on the site A paintbrush with locs as its brush. Intriqued, I did some more research and found an artist who The New York Times hailed as the art world’s modern-day James Dean.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, the first of three children to Matilde Andrades and Gerard Basquiat. Gerard Basquiat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Matilde Basquiat was a Puerto Rican woman born in Brooklyn, New York. Because of his heritage, Basquiat was fluent in French, Spanish and English by the age of eleven, and was able to read and write in all three languages.

Basquiat was a precocious child, as he learned how to read and write by age four and was gifted in artwork. His teachers noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son’s artwork.

At the age of seven, Basquiat was hit and run over by a car while playing in the street and was rushed to a hospital. His arm was broken, and he received multiple internal injuries, some of which necessitated the removal of his spleen.

In September 1968, when Basquiat was seven years old, his parents separated and he and his sisters were raised by their father. The family resided in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn for five years, before they moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1974. The family resided in Puerto Rico for two years, before they returned to New York City in 1976.

In 1976, when Basquiat was 15 years old, he ran away from home. He slept on park benches in Washington Square Park, before he was arrested for running away and returned to the care of his father less than one week later.

In June 1977, Basquiat dropped out of City As School in Brooklyn in the tenth grade. Thereafter, his father banished him from the household and Basquiat stayed with his friends in Brooklyn. He supported himself by selling T-shirts and homemade post cards, and worked at the Unique Clothing Warehouse in West Broadway, Manhattan.

Beginning in 1976, Basquiat and friend Al Diaz began spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO. The designs inscribed messages such as “Plush safe he think.. SAMO” and “SAMO as an escape clause.” On December 11, 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the graffiti. The SAMO project ended with the epitaph “SAMO IS DEAD,” inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in 1979.

In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda. In 1981, Rene Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world.

In late 1981, he joined the Annina Nosei gallery in SoHo, Manhattan. By 1982, Basquiat was showing regularly, and was involved with the Neo-expressionist movement. He was represented in Los Angeles, California by the Larry Gagosian gallery, and throughout Europe by Bruno Bischofberger. He briefly dated then-aspiring performer Madonna in late 1982. That same year, Basquiat met Andy Warhol, with whom he collaborated from 1984 to 1986. He was also briefly involved with artist David Bowie. Basquiat worked on his paintings in Armani suits, and often appeared in public in the same paint-splattered $1,000 suits.

In 1986, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei gallery, and was showing in the famous Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10, 1986, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled, “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist”. He was a successful artist in this period, however an increasing heroin addiction began to interfere with his personal relationships.

After Warhol died on February 22, 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated, and his heroin addiction and depression became more severe. After an attempt at sobriety during a trip to Hawaii, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in his art studio on Great Jones Street in New York City’s NoHo neighborhood on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27.

Several major museum retrospective exhibitions of Basquiat’s works have been held since his death. The first was the “Jean-Michel Basquiat” exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art from October 1992 to February 1993. It subsequently traveled to museums in Texas, Iowa, and Alabama from 1993 to 1994. The catalog for this exhibition, edited by Richard Marshall and including several essays of differing styles, was a groundbreaking piece of scholarship into his work and still a major source. Another major and influential exhibition was the “Basquiat” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum March–June 2005 (which subsequently traveled to Los Angeles and Houston from 2005 to 2006).

Until 2002, the highest money paid for an original work of Basquiat’s was $3,302,500 (US), set on November 12, 1998 at Christie’s. On May 14, 2002, Basquiat’s “Profit” (a large piece measuring 86.5″/220 cm by 157.5″/400 cm), owned by drummer Lars Ulrich of the heavy metal band Metallica, was set for auction again at Christie’s. It sold for $5,509,500.

Watch next week for another profile. Until then, look at these two videos: one a trailer for a film on his life, Basquiat, starring Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie (as Andy Warhol), Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldham, Benicio Del Toro and other stars. The other is opening titles for a documentary on Basquiat (that’s the actual artist shown here in Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child) produced by David Koh, Lilly Bright, Stanley Buchthal and Alexis Manya.

And, don’t forget that is your guide to the loc’d lifestyle and the place for locs on the web.

Gail Mitchell

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