Daubing the subways of New York in the 1980s with provocative images that shocked the establishment was how it all started. Two decades later, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and David Salle are being hailed as the founding fathers of a modern-day art form.
Now Bonhams auction house is to hold the world's first urban art auction sale, providing a "visual history" of how the genre they established came out of the slums to become the toast of the art world. The auction on 5 February, which also includes works by Banksy, Paul Insect, Adam Neate and D*Face, reveals how Basquiat and Haring's legacy has led to growing demand and rocketing sales of urban art today.
Michelle Gonsalves, spokeswoman at Bonhams, said there was a direct route from the New York artists and those working in London now. "There are parallels to be drawn between how and what was expressed through the New York arts scene of the 1980s by artists such as Basquiat, Haring and Salle, to what is currently taking place in London by artists such as Banksy and Neate," she said.
The sale of about 100 works includes Banksy's screen print of Kate Moss, estimated to sell for up to £30,000, Insect's Elvis, estimated at up to £8,000; and Haring's Pop VI, estimated at up to £2,000.
A boom in urban art has been taking place around the world and huge interest is expected in the Bonhams event, the first auction of its kind. Individual exhibitions have attracted unprecedented numbers of visitors and celebrity collectors are circling.
Insect's first solo exhibition, Bullion, was cancelled this summer when Damien Hirst bought the entire collection for a rumoured £500,000, and Banksy's work has been bought by the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Dennis Hopper, Keanu Reeves and Jude Law. His work, Space Girl and Bird, designed as the artwork for Blur's Think Tank album, fetched £288,000 in April 2007, 20 times its estimate and a world auction record for his work at the time.
When Basquiat and Haring became inspired by the aesthetic of the street, which included flyposting and stencil spraying images, it was a marginal art form which had rarely been exhibited in a gallery space.
Basquiat, who was of Puerto Rican and Haitian heritage, began spray-painting graffiti art on slum buildings in lower Manhattan when he was 17, adding his infamous signature of "SAMO" or "SAMO shit".
He dropped out of school and began selling T-shirts and postcards for a living, quickly achieving cult status on the underground scene. In 1979, he appeared in Blondie's video for "Rapture" and in 1982 he cameto the attention of the pop artist Andy Warhol, with whom he would collaborate.
Although his radical work, focusing on his black and Haitian identity, was gripping the imaginationof an increasing number of collectors and gallerists, Basquiat was unable to kick the drug habit he picked up while living among addicts and street artists and he died of a heroin overdose in 1988, aged 27.
Haring was a graphic arts student dropout who also drew heavily on the city's graffiti culture and gained mass recognition for chalking hundreds of images on the New York subway. In 1980, he participated in a seminal "street art" show at Times Square with Basquiat and also painted murals on venues due for demolition across the world, only turning to work on canvas in 1985. He went on to appear on MTV and body-painted the singer Grace Jones for a pop video. He died of an HIV-related illness in 1990.
Cristina Ruiz, editor of The Art Newspaper, said both artists had left significant legacies. Basquiat, she said, broke into the mainstream without any formal artistic training or education, while Haring took control of the marketing and merchandising of his work himself, thus "laying the foundations for the Damien Hirsts of today".Reuse content