Page 3 Profile: Jean-Michel Basquiat, American painter


Wednesday 10 October 2012 09:27

Wasn't he the Amy Winehouse of the art world?

Like Winehouse, Basquiat was a preternaturally talented individual who met an untimely end. He died of a heroin overdose on 12 August 1988, at the age of 27, having spent much of his short life at the centre of New York's arts scene. But almost 25 years on, his popularity is undiminished. In fact, between July 2011 and June this year, his works sold at auction for a total of €79.9m – more than any contemporary artist and more than twice that of his nearest rival, the Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi.

What are Basquiat paintings like?

They are bombastic, colourful and, importantly, there are a great many of them. The Brooklyn-born neo-expressionist, primitivist and friend of Andy Warhol is thought to have produced about 1,000 paintings, some now owned by the likes of Madonna and Leonardo DiCaprio. Basquiat was even name-checked by Kanye West and Jay-Z in their recent collaborative album. "Jean-Michel Basquiat is now far beyond being a mere major contemporary artist. He is now, like Warhol, a mythical figure in 20th-century art," said Martin Bremond, head economist at Artprice. "Basquiat's artistic reputation is more or less equal to that of Warhol, but he is more affordable. In the current climate of economic uncertainty, his work is therefore considered a safe haven that appeals to investors." That's not to say they're cheap. Basquiat pieces that sold for between $5,000 and $10,000 in the early 1980s now go under the hammer at multimillion-dollar auctions.

Was he troubled?

Immensely. His mother was sectioned when he was 11 and he ran away from home at 15, earning a living selling T-shirts and postcards. He started out as a graffiti artist, using the tag "Samo". His work meshed his own experiences and identity with comic-book phrases, Biblical passages and television slogans. He got his big break in 1981, when he violently smeared 15 found objects with paint to forge nightmarish cartoon characters. Some saw his work as repetitious, but that didn't stop it selling. However, while people where happy to build the hype around him, they also turned a blind eye to his crippling drug use.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments