Introduction: Rage to Riches (01:55)
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an artist who would “make things happen in the creative space by any means necessary,” according to friend Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite. He took New York by storm with his talent and charisma while overcoming stereotypes regarding how black artists were supposed to express themselves.
Basquiat's Childhood (03:17)
Basquiat grew up in Brooklyn. His earliest memory was of getting hit by a car while playing stickball at age 7. His mother brought him the book “Gray’s Anatomy” while he recuperated in the hospital, and its illustrations were an early influence.
New York from the mid-1970s to early 1980s was a creative paradise. Basquiat left home and did whatever he needed to do to express himself. He first gained notoriety as a conceptual graffiti artist, using a cryptic alias.
Canal Zone Party (02:58)
Basquiat attended a themed party that was meant to introduce uptown graffiti artists to the downtown fine arts scene on April 29, 1979. It was there that he came out of the shadows as SAMO.
Meeting an Idol (02:45)
Basquiat spotted artist Andy Warhol sitting at a restaurant with curator Henry Geldzahler. He seized the opportunity and sold Warhol a couple of postcards. He later gained exposure on Glenn O’Brien’s public access show, “TV Party.”
SAMO is Dead (05:06)
Basquiat killed off his graffiti alter ego, damaging his relationship with friend and collaborator, Al Diaz. He began to assert himself as an artist under his own name. He and Fab 5 Freddy bonded over their love of art museums.
Movie Project (03:06)
Basquiat starred in the art film “Downtown 81,” creating some of his first paintings for the project. It was “a fairytale of what our life was back then,” according to producer Maripol. Basquiat moved in with Suzanne Mallouk around this time.
Creative Outpouring (03:15)
Basquiat decided to start a band, naming it Gray after “Gray’s Anatomy.” He was drawing or painting constantly. He could not afford art supplies and would paint on objects he found in the street. The first painting that he sold was to singer Debbie Harry.
Photo with Idol (03:51)
Basquiat was given the main wall in a show called “New York/New Wave” in 1981, the first public display of his paintings. He made a big impression and met gallery owner Annina Nosei, who also showcased his work.
Slave or Artist in Residence? (04:35)
Basquiat did not have his own studio, so he started painting in Nosei’s basement. Word got out very quickly that there was a genius working there. Subtly racist rumors circulated that he had been locked away and forced to work.
Creative Explosion (03:22)
Basquiat was quite prolific from 1981 to 1982, producing perhaps 250 paintings and 500 drawings. His process was very intuitive, drawing from disparate influences that included no wave and hip-hop music and the cut-up technique popularized by author William S. Burroughs.
Commercial Breakthrough (03:16)
Basquiat’s work was sophisticated and astonishingly direct, but part of the discourse revolved around unfortunate critiques of it being primitivist. Nosei offered Basquiat his first solo, gallery show in 1982, and he was soon making a lot of money.
Superstar Status (03:40)
Larry Gagosian organized a show for Basquiat at his new gallery in Los Angeles. Basquiat soon became a jetsetter as his work was featured in France, Germany, Japan and elsewhere. He was well on his way to becoming a millionaire.
Burning Bridges (03:39)
Basquiat showed his art at New York’s Fun Gallery, seemingly a reaction to his growing fame. He had a falling out with Nosei who he accused of selling paintings before they were done. He sold his paintings without a gallery and was paid in cash and drugs.
Dos Cabezas (02:55)
Art dealer Bruno Bischofberger suggested that Warhol shoot a portrait of Basquiat for his magazine, Interview. This inspired Basquiat to paint a self-portrait of himself with his idol that he finished that day. It made a big impression.
Mary Boone Gallery (03:05)
Interview magazine photographer Paige Powell organized a show for Basquiat in April 1983. Gallery owner Mary Boone first showcased his art in 1984. She featured a serious group of artists that he wanted to be included in.
Not Pigeonholed By Race (02:58)
It was important to Basquiat that he be regarded as a great artist versus a black artist. At the same time, he was profoundly connected to his blackness and the black experience. He felt that black people were not adequately portrayed in modern art.
Death of an Artist (03:39)
New York graffiti writer Michael Stewart died after being beaten by police in 1983, sparking protest and intensifying focus on police brutality. Basquiat responded with a series of paintings, but he was apprehensive about participating in a legal defense fund for the victim.
Cover Story (02:24)
Basquiat feared that he could not really be part of a mostly white, affluent art world. Cathleen McGuigan followed the artist for a New York Times story that made him feel as if he had made it.
From Chow to Collaboration (03:40)
Basquiat invited Warhol and Powell to a dinner his father hosted in Brooklyn. Bischofberger suggested that Basquiat and Warhol start working on art together. Warhol was paternal, but there was a thread of rivalry running through their partnership.
Negative Feedback (06:11)
The Warhol/Basquiat show was held at the Shafrazi Art Gallery in 1985. Michael Halsband photographed the artists as boxers for its iconic poster. Among the memorable paintings were “Crocodile 1984/1985” and “Untitled (50 Dentures).” One unflattering review called Basquiat the older artist’s mascot.
Riding With Death (06:59)
Basquiat started to doubt himself, feeling there had been a turn in the critical reception of his work. He was inconsolable when he learned Warhol died in 1987. His drug use accelerated, and the theme of death permeated his work.
Basquiat died on Aug. 12, 1988. He was 27. His work continued to demand high price tags as consumers bought into the romantic myth of troubled geniuses who died too young.
Credits: Basquiat: Rage to Riches (01:10)
Credits: Basquiat: Rage to Riches
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