Jean-Michel Basquiat

4.1.2018

I went to see Basquiat Boom for Real exhibition at the Barbican. I was really impressed by the large body of work (1000 paintings and 3000 drawings) Basquiat had managed to produce in his short life, aged 27. It showed how he was really dedicated to his art practice, no matter what others thought of him.

My favourite works from his collection was his Self-Portrait 1984 and Hollywood Africans 1983. I liked the fact he was taking information from his surroundings and his personal experiences and bringing them together. In some of his works he is either directly present or has an “avatar” of himself within his paintings. Also, the fact he was using found materials, going beyond the canvas, e.g fridge, wood, window frames, he was thinking outside of the box, quite literally! I enjoyed the exhibition and it was great to see were he got his source material from and the colour, density, composition and structure used in his works, was enlightening. His works were really about racial politics and social/economic unjust.

But, I could not help wonder why the Basquiat exhibition needed so much information regarding his practice, on one hand it was great to see him finally being acknowledged as an artist. But on the other hand it seemed like Basquiat needed validation, that he was a genuine artist. Could this be due to the fact he never had a formal art education or that he was African American. I personally think it was both of these reasons, not very suprising. Basquiat in his interview with Becky Johnston and Tamra Davis, said “of my personality, yeah more so than my work, mostly. Basquiat goes on to say “They’re just racist, most of these people […] They said my father was accountant for a fast-food chain. And they talk about graffiti endlessly, which I don’t really consider myself to be a graffiti artist, you know? So they have this image of me: wild man running – you know, wild monkey man, whatever the fuck they think”. Basquiat was treated more like novelty rather than respected as an artist.

The art world and art education institutes are still very ignorant towards the works of artist of colour, it is always stereotyped into a “box” or dismissed/deflected upon. Nothing has changed since Basquiat, a good example is given in the https://frieze.com/article/turner-prize-identity-politics.

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