First published in the Spring 2015 print edition, as part of “Haitian Descendants Among the Stars” Vol. 1
The Complex, Painful Phantasmagoria of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Artists are mental explorers, and that is probably the most painful aspect of anything in the world. The mind naturally holds in a lot of darkness and artists have to process all the emotions to express something of value and aesthetically pleasing as art. This transformation
process is definitely hurtful, as pain opens up the heart in ways too difficult to bear.
From pain, magic is born
You can easily feel the pain of a young black boy who once ran away from home as his mother was committed to a mental institution. When he returned, his father kicked him out. He slept at friends’ places, park benches and survived by selling t-shirts and handpainted
cards. At about this time, Jean Michel Basquiat, the artists, was born.
The tormented mind
Around 1976, an anonymous artist group called SAMO began to create strange graffiti on the walls of Lower Manhattan, NY. The paintings carried inscriptions such as “SAMO…as the escape clause.” The strange charm attracted publicity and Basquiat never looked back.
Although his paintings attracted significant prestige, they were never fancy, so to say.
There is always that sense of a tormented man trying to find his life through excruciating pain. However, there is also something beautiful and vibrant about the contorted face of his characters.
The beautiful man
Basquiat did many things, including having a relationship with Madonna for some time. He also made a Noise Rock band called Test Pattern, and appeared in a music video for the band ‘Blondie’. His painting ‘The Radiant Child’ brought him to the immediate attention of the art world. The artist used symbolism from Grey’s Anatomy (the book), African folklore, and also derived inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci.
He was known for his strong opinion on sociopolitical issues such as race conflicts and poverty. He was also known for his eccentric nature, his weird hair, and his habit of wearing expensive Armani suits splattered with paint. He died in 1988 from a heroin overdose.
Haitian Roots: His father, Gerard Basquiat, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and his mother, Matilde Basquiat, who was of Puerto Rican descent, was born in Brooklyn, New York.
Haitian Deeds: Basquiat drew upon his Haitian heritage by painting a hat that resembles the top hat associated with the Guédé family of Loa, who embody the powers of death in vodou.
Artist: Jean-Michel Basquiat Completion Date: 1982