Before being a painter, Basquiat was a graffiti artist. His tag was simple: “SAMO”, or “Same Old Shit”. In those days, the artist kept to a certain style. Like graffiti on top of more graffiti, his works are composed like a patchwork. But his success wouldn’t come until later – he was kicked out of the house and, to make ends meet, he sold postcards and t-shirts on the sidewalks of his native New York. At night, he frequented the Mudd Club and Club 57. There, he would meet Madonna and David Bowie, but it was a run-in with Andy Warhol, who he sold one of his postcards to, that would turn his universe upside down. His paintings than were the rhetoric of his optics: his soul vibrated and materialized the street and its elements. Poverty, cars, children, he sampled everything, mixing it with extinct cultures that haunted him. Influenced by Dali, Picasso, Warhol, and Goya, Jean-Michel Basquiat worked with a faux disorder and superimposed writings, collages, and paintings. He filled it all with a joy that was indispensable to his target: denouncing racism and hyper-consumption.
In 1989, one year after his death, U2 bassist Adam Clayton would incite the group to acquire Untitled (Pecho/orjea). Purchased collectively, the painting watched over their recording sessions in Dublin. In 2008, they parted ways with it for 5 million pounds sterling. Just last week, this expressive work became the most valuable work of art by an American artist ever to be sold at auction, reaching 110.5 million dollars in New York.
“And, in addition to that, the cool factor and mythology,” declared Franklin Sirmans, director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami and Basquiat expert. “It’s an amazing success story that also comes with lots of tragedies that people can identify with and that we look for in our artists – our Kurt Cobains and our Janis Joplins.” Alchemist of unpredictability, remarkable, dazzling, there’s no shortage of adjectives when it comes to describing the genius that Basquiat was. His oeuvre highlights black culture through paintings that deal with segregation and slavery. And one thing is certain, the work of Basquiat is so sincere that it transcends the monetary value attributed to some definitions of art.
With his numerous records, Basquiat holds a distinguished place in contemporary art today. His untitled work distantly followed Peter Doig’s White Canoe. In 2015, the Fondation Louis Vuitton exhibited “Grillo”, one of the artist’s works that deals with African cultural heritage, an eminently political theme.