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"Untitled", 1981 © The Estate of Jean-­Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Robert McKeever

“Untitled”, 1981 © The Estate of Jean-­Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Robert McKeever

Just last week, the Gagosian opened a major exhibit paying homage to one of New York’s most talented but tortured artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). A charismatic character bristling with self-destructive creative energy, Basquiat was known for expressing and juxtaposing conflicting qualities in his work. In his visceral, spontaneous pieces, he celebrated the tension between such disparate elements as aloofness and instinctual expression, wit and savagery, urbanity and primitivism.

"Untitled (Two Heads on Gold)", 1982 © The Estate of Jean-­Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

“Untitled (Two Heads on Gold)”, 1982
© The Estate of Jean-­Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

He was famous not only for his prodigious artistic talent but also for his formidable cultish persona. Known for a sort of louche elegance epitomized by dreadlocks, bare feet and paint splattered Armani suits, he impressed even the likes of Andy Warhol and Blondie.

© Julio Donoso/Corbis

© Julio Donoso/Corbis

While his name may imply that he hails from more Gallic climes, he was in fact born and raised in a broken home in Brooklyn. However, Basquiat was saved by his own genius. Able to read and write by age four and fluent in three languages, his artistic and intellectual gifting was so apparent that even his dysfunctional parents encouraged his talent. He took to the streets at the age of 15, becoming heavily involved in the New York underground noise punk scene. He also began scrawling graffiti poetry on walls in Lower Manhattan under the moniker SAMO (“Same Old Shit”). He abandoned these pursuits to paint. By 1982, his reputation as an artist skyrocketed. Unfortunately, his luminous career came to an end when he died of an overdose at the age of 27.

"Cassius Clay", 1982  © The Estate of Jean-­Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Robert McKeever

“Cassius Clay”, 1982 © The Estate of Jean-­Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Robert McKeever

"Riding With Death," 1988 © The Estate of Jean-­Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Robert McKeever

“Riding With Death,” 1988
© The Estate of Jean-­Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS, New York 2013. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Robert McKeever

The paintings on display at the Gagosian showcase his searing artistic vision and dark wit to perfection. Some excellent examples are Riding With Death (1988), Cassius Clay (1982) and Untitled (1981). These and many more stimulating works can be admired and discussed at the Gagosian Gallery until April 6.

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