FORMAL ANALYSIS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT
Jean-Michel Basquiat crossed over from his downtown origins to the international art gallery circuit. Basquiat rose to become a celebrated, and probably the most commercially exploited American painter, in the widely celebrated Neo-Expressionism art movement. His work is an example of how the American artists could once more introduce the aspect of human beings in their work after the vast achievement of minimalism and conceptualism. This essay is thus about how Basquiat skillfully and purposefully brought together in his work a horde of contrasting customs, practices, and styles to craft a kind of visual college.
The works of the former graffiti sprayer Jean-Michel Basquiat penetrated the global art scene with an unparalleled quickness. His work got the attention of big short art dealers like Bruno Bischofberger, Mary Boone, and Anina Nosei. His work also captivated a large audience varying from vagabonds to high society. Up to date, his paintings are compared to ancient tribal drawings and nursery school scribbles. The comparisons are purposed to show the works’ raw innocence and tone of legitimacy. All in all, there is nothing juvenile in the communicative power of Basquiat’s work.
His paintings express varied themes such as drug abuse, bigotry, jazz, capitalism and mortality. The issues of racial and socioeconomic inequality and the degradation of life seem to be pervasive throughout his paintings. Each of his paintings has an immediate message despite their impulsive composition. Through his paintings, the society is advantaged to view the urban beauty and decay, together with the social malpractices that lurk within the society.
In Basquiat’s painting “Untitled,” the mood is that of gloom. It is in black, white, and dark blue, which makes it striking from the first look. The minimalist design depicts a prisoner two uniformed men who are assumed to be police officers because of their hats and badge. The painting expresses racial overtones as shown in the direct contrast between the prisoners and the police men. A common symbol in Basquiat’s work, “The Halo” is also visible in the art. The symbol is used by Basquite in his works to portray the black characters. In his painting, “Untitled,” the symbol is used to signify the martyred status of the prisoner. A long time director of the Modern Art Museum in Lugano writes in a foreword to Basquiat to appreciate his usage of blackness to indicate discrimination and confusion in the existing generation .( Chiappini,11)
Additionally, Basquiat has indicated the geographical context of the scene that distinctively is an urban environment. Most likely, he did not witness the urban scene in New York during his lifetime. It is also well known that he was at one time subjected to discrimination and racial profiling, having severally complained about being unable to hail a taxicab in New York because of his race. It is hence clear that Untitled is a painting of police discrimination and the mistreatment of black individuals in the city.
Basquiat’s paintings are vividly permeated by sarcasm that at the same time enriches his art in the most confounding way. He employs the use of animal and bestial imagery in his paintings. The explicit images in some of his paintings are crude and almost offensive to the sense of human beings. An example is the udder, which propels the animal imagery into a completely new paradigm. His painting allusions to the south of Twain’s area and the cotton context imply a reference to slavery before the civil war. Luciano Caprile writes in “Jean- Michel Basquiat: The Word and the Image” about the extraordinary narrative element in Basquiat’s work. He indicates that the paintings extrapolate from the myths and the rites of origin and put it on display, as a visual profanation and an existential declaration. (Caprile, 118)
Basquiat’s paintings were invariably tied to the market booms in the 1980s, and like his colleagues, he elaborated the insight of the artist as superstar, making recurrent occurrences in published periodicals. His art appears on high fashion street wear and luxury knits. This makes his celebrity status to still grow twenty- six years after his death. Documentary and narrative films have been made about his life and his paintings continue to soar in the market. (Vogel) His art auction records are written by a newspaper editor in the New York Times Magazine.
Basquiat’s work does not show a harsh disinterest in issues of institutional critique and minimalism. He does not have a total preoccupation with them unlike in the minimalist artwork. There is a broad representation of culture in his work. His interest is in the Gray’s Anatomy and African history. His approach was also to pull from all strata of New York City’s contemporary culture. Based on world’s history, combining all the interests in his artwork is a way of creating a highly personal brand of painting.
In the painting chronological framework, Basquiat’s project is similar to other projects, with notable exception in the usage of collage; a technique that Basquiat worked with when he was struggling to get his name out. Jean-Michel uses paint and his work is hand painted, inherently personal and emotional. The kind of work he did could only be made out of him. His work does not just look into collected trash and remnants of the society, but rather at a life and an individual made out of the trash and salvageable chaos.
Some of Basquiat’s paintings are emotional and psychologically evocative. They contain a great deal of darkness and suffering on a far more personal or spiritual level. The suffering reflected in his paintings may be linked to an ethnic disposition or inferiority. It may also be a reflection of a lifestyle of self-fulfilled prophecies that are fulfilled almost spitefully. His works also notably illustrate a condition of living and dying faster.
Basquiat is known to have been a frequent drug user who made it a habit to use cocaine and heroin. He often combined the two drugs for increased reaction in his body. In “The Andy Warhol Diaries,” Andy Warhol, who was Basquiat’s close friend writes how his friend would come in and paint on slow motion, leaving a lot of blank spaces. Andy Warhol explains how Basquiat would bend to fix his shoelace and remain in that position for five minutes. (Taka, 109) Despite his assurances to family members and friends that he would stop using drugs, he passed on at the age of twenty seven due to drug overdose. One of his paintings is probably a reference to the urban drug problem. There is a significance relationship between the imagery he uses and the drug context. When one critically analyzes his paintings, the outcome will be in relation to how drugs turn man into beasts.
Critics raised against Basquiant’s works indicate that the symbols used by him were not fulfilling in all of his paintings. For instance, Basquiant was once quoted saying that he was writing gold on all the stuff and made money thereafter.(Taka,137) The last painting done by Jean-Michel was about death resulting from drug abuse. One may conclude that Jean-Michel has prophesied his death but at the same time term it as coincidental in his mission to make money.
In Basquiant’s incredible works, similarities can be noted, creating a meaning and a narrative that can be pervades throughout. The works lasts throughout Basquiant’s whole painting career illustrating maintained quality in his works. His works also demonstrates the significance of the themes brought out by the artist. He asserts that discrimination, exploitation and inequality were not fleeting whims but are timeless issues.
The trauma of his urban existence, his drug abuse, his upbringing in a multiracial family, his witnessing of injustices in everyday life and his condition as a black painter speaks loud in his art work with unquestionable intensity. It is thus necessary to remain skeptical and hesitant in keen analysis of Basquiat’s art given that he was a trickster endowed with a lot of skills in creating good audience.
In conclusion, this essay has formally analyzed the Jean-Michel Basquiant as an artist, his paintings that can be grouped depending on the themes and imagery used. The groups in which his works are categorized depict racially charged themes, themes of capitalism, economic inequality and exploitation alongside spirituality issues in the modern urban society.