Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Video: The Chaotic Brilliance of Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Like Beat writers who composed their work by shredding and reassembling scraps of writing, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat used similar techniques to remix his materials. Pulling in splintered anatomy, reimagined historical scenes and skulls, he repurposed present day experiences and art history into an inventive visual language. In this TED lesson, Jordana Moore Saggese explores the chaotic and prolific art of Basquiat.

Directed by Héloïse Dorsan Rachet, narrated by Christina Greer, music by Stephen LaRosa

Running time: 4 minutes

Email subscribers may click on the title of this post to watch the video.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) was an influential American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. Basquiat first achieved fame as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s, where rap, punk, and street art coalesced into early hip-hop music culture. By the 1980s, his neo-expressionist paintings were being exhibited in galleries and museums internationally. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.

Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies”, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.

Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a tool for introspection and for identifying with his experiences in the black community of his time, as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism. He died of a heroin overdose at his art studio at the age of 27.

On May 18, 2017, at a Sotheby’s auction, an untitled 1982 painting by Basquiat (see below) depicting a black skull with red and black rivulets set a new record high for any American artist at auction, selling for US$110.5 million.

Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jeg, Jean-Michel Basquiat
Hollywood Africans (detail; 1983), Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

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