SAO PAULO – New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat had a plan for his life and he lived up to it. He turned his rebelliousness into art and, before dying of a drug overdose at age 27, left his name on more than 2,000 works of art, some of which have now come to Brazil as a retrospective exhibition.
Amid the crisis that was New York in the 1980s, the young artist and his generation helped “reconstitute” the world around them with vast energy, new colors and overpowering emotions, which in those days came as a breath of fresh air to the art world, the exhibit’s curator Pieter Tjabbes said.
The retrospective, which opens this Thursday in Sao Paulo, brings together 80 works by the artist, notable for their use of simple materials and forms like paper, collages, photocopies and combinations of words and human images, mostly inspired by a the copy of Gray’s Anatomy his mother gave him after an accident at age 7.
This fusion is well reflected in “Hand Anatomy,” a work created in 1982, one of the most productive periods in a brief career marked by experiments in art, sex and drugs.
“Hand Anatomy,” painted on wood, combines certain signature elements of his work: the speed of graffiti, linearity, anatomy illustrations and phrases in English and Spanish.
Thirty years after his death, Basquiat’s works are the pride of collectors worldwide, but the “wild boy” began his career far from the art galleries.
He did it selling post cards and spraying graffiti around Lower Manhattan with his friend, Al Diaz, with whom he formed the street-art duo SAMO (for “same old shit”).
Years later, Al Diaz and Basquiat reached the point of painting the message “SAMO is dead,” after which the New York artist kicked off a meteoric solo career with an introduction to Andy Warhol, who became his friend and “partner.”
Son of a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat is a “faithful portrait” of New York in the 1980s and his work comes to Sao Paulo “at a very important time for Brazil,” Tjabbes said.
His production, the curator added, personifies the character of New York in those days, “when a mix of enthusiasm and decadence in the city created a paradise of creativity.”
Self-taught and exceptionally intelligent, the young rebel died before he turned 30 from a heroin overdose, but during his short career he produced one of the highest priced works of art ever sold on the US market.