Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self Portrait
Horns Players by Jean-Michel Basquiat has to be my favorite piece from anything we’ve covered in class. My younger sister painted a picture of what I have decided was a cocker spaniel on a green background. It looked like a finger painted glob of brown, green, and black for the eyes and mouth. She was in the paper and received a medal and certificate for painting this picture. I was completely outdone. I had been painting detailed landscapes since before she could walk, and she came along with a finger painting and received rewards and recognition. My mom tried to explain to me the appeal behind a painting that looked like it was done by a child. Now that I see Horn Players, I can relate.
Skimming over Basquiat’s piece, is not an option. The sketchy, child-like rendering drew me in and once I was captured, I felt compelled to carefully study this work. When Prof. Siddons, talked about the Basquiat’s reasons for painting in this manner saying that he wanted people to think the piece had been done by a child, I just knew that I had to get to know this artist. I found way more than I bargained for though. The most astounding fact I discovered concerned his short life span. Basquiat was only 27 years old when he died from a heroine overdose.
Born in 1960, Basquiat quit school and left home for one year before graduating from high school. His first artworks consisted of painted postcards and t-shirts. Basquiat’s short career spanned a mere decade. His influences ranged from Leonardo Da Vinci to Abstract Expressionists. His work is most categorized as Abstract Expressionism.
Upon a cursory glance, I get a sense of nervousness in his works. When I read about his excessive use of drugs and his constant state of paranoia, it began to all make sense. Many say that Basquiat lived a rock star/starving artist life. His assistant of five years remarked that when he first met Basquiat, he came to the door naked in the middle of the afternoon. The assistant walked into the apartment and found that Basquiat was living in a room with only two pieces of furniture, a mattress with no box spring and a small tv set. He continued this detailed description saying:
“The floor was covered with an amazing array of clutter: art history books, cassette tapes, art supplies, and clothing including lots of paint spattered Armani that I took to the dry cleaners in a plastic garbage bag. Then there was the more: lots of drawings on the floor, many having been walked on, art supplies including oilsticks, paintbrushes and rollers, and last, but not least, bags of marijuana, and wads of cash”.
Sneed has what I consider the most accurate and believable description of Basquiat. He recounted, “Jean-Michel could remember details and spew them out with real intensity at a random moment, and that essentially is what I began to realize his art was often about: intensely felt, but fragmented experience and knowledge.”
The more I read about this most interesting artist the more I was fascinated by his existence. I began to look at his works in a new light, and I remain in awe of his powerful depictions.
1. Sneed, John. “Recollections of JMB.” JohnSneed.com. Web. 8 Dec 2009. <http://www.johnseed.com/basquiat.html>.