Basquiat's explosive works on show

AFP
The explosive works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a trailblazer of the New York art scene of the 1970s and 1980s, is on show in London for his first major British exhibition.
AFP
Reuters

Basquiat exhibition in London

The explosive works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a trailblazer of the New York art scene of the 1970s and 1980s, is on show in London for his first major British exhibition.

The former graffiti artist, who died in 1988 at just 27 years old, mined a huge range of influences including jazz, pop culture, abstract and primitive art and old masters in producing his dynamic and distinctive paintings, earning him a devout legion of supporters.

“These works are able to induce almost maniacal passion in people, once you get hooked there’s no going back,” said Eleanor Nairne, curator at Barbican Art Gallery. “His work is really expressive, loose, free,” she said. “Very rough and ready, but with that raw texture to it, teeming with thoughts, influences.”

His “Untitled” work sold for a record US$110.5 million in New York this year, a sign the increasingly high esteem in which his work is held.

The vibrant, busy pieces reveal a stream of consciousness, absorbing influences from high and pop culture, including jazz master Charlie Parker, Leonardo da Vinci, Henri Matisse and the Looney Tunes’s Road Runner and reproducing them in abstract forms. Common motifs include the use of symbols and text, often repeated in blocks, exploring themes such as colonialism and class politics.

Nairne said Basquiat had a “seismic impact not just on contemporary art, but much more broadly, in fashion and in media, whether it be Jay Z or Banksy.”

Basquiat, born in 1960, learned his trade in the late 1970s in the post-punk underground art scene in downtown New York, being a protege of pop-art icon Andy Warhol and becoming a pioneer of multi-media work.

He also played in a band as part of the scene that spawned artists such as Blondie and the Ramones, and his use of chopped-up samples in his paintings echoed similar techniques being used at the same time by hip-hop pioneers like Grandmaster Flash.

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