Basel retrospective pays homage to US artist Basquiat

American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died in 1988 of a drug overdose at only 27, once admitted that he did not know how to characterise his phenomenally successful work.

"I never know how really to describe it except maybe - I don't know, I don't know how to describe my work, cause it's not always the same thing," he said.

Indeed the onetime graffiti artist, who went on to collaborate with Andy Warhol, packed his works with a mish-mash of ideas ranging from music to contemporary culture to social commentary about racism and injustice.

To mark his 50th birthday, the biggest retrospective yet of Basquiat's work has opened at the Beyeler Foundation in the northern Swiss city of Basel with more than 100 pieces on show, before moving onto Paris.

Many of the works, drawn from both private and public collections around the world, display Basquiat's signature comic-like figures in bold colours.

"When you get into it, there's so much knowledge inside, a lot of contemporary inside," said the curator of the Basel show, Dieter Buchhart.

Born in Brooklyn in 1960, Basquiat defied his modest beginnings - his father was a Haitian immigrant and his mother was from Puerto Rico - to became part of the avant-garde New York scene of the 1980s, mixing with Warhol and other renowned artists of the day.

At one point he had a brief affair with then rising singer and actress Madonna.

His first passion was street graffiti, using walls in Brooklyn and Manhattan as his workspace, before Basquiat switched to painting at the age of 19. Friends quickly learned he was not one to spare blank surfaces, at times covering their furniture, even refrigerators, with his drawings.

Among his friends was the rapper Fab 5 Freddy. "He would just famously walk across his paintings which were on the floor. It was just you know, it was very cool," he said at a preview of the Basel show.

Basquiat, some of whose works have sold for millions of dollars, just "held the pencil very loosely. Just let it slide across the page," the rapper said.

The result was an eclectic collection of paintings and collages, some with slogans scrawled on pieces of paper pasted on the canvas and painted over. He drew heavily on references from contemporary culture with a distinctive childlike quality to many of his works.

One piece in the Basel show, for example, is a line drawing of Cassius Clay - the former world heavyweight boxing champion better known as Mohammed Ali. Other works feature much-loved cartoon figures like Felix the Cat or Daffy Duck-like caricatures.

In one of his best known pieces in the retrospective, Basquiat portrayed a figure riding on a skeleton, a work now seen as foreshadowing the artist's early death from a drug overdose in New York.

"I start a picture and I finish it. I don't think about art while I work. I try to think about life," Basquiat once said.

The retrospective was organized in collaboration with the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (the Modern Art Museum of the city of Paris). It runs in Basel until September 5, then will be on show at the Paris venue from October 15 to January 30, 2011.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine