Jean-Michel Basquiat, the artist who brought graffiti to the Guggenheim

Date
6 July 2015
Reading Time
2 minute read

From subway graffitist to art world darling, Jean-Michel Basquiat was perhaps the quintessential New York artist. Before he came to embody that particularly urbane trinity of poetry, jazz and painting, the Brooklyn prodigy was spray painting cryptic messages on Lower Manhattan buildings under the moniker SAMO and selling sweatshirts and postcards emblazoned with his work. Basquiat was one of several graffiti artists to transition to the gallery, but the only one with such a meteoric ascent and with such staying power. By his early twenties he counted Andy Warhol as a friend and collaborator, and his impassioned brand of countercultural painting had completely taken New York by storm.

Though his career was short-lived (he died of a heroin overdose at 27 in 1988) it was was prolific, and Basquiat most definitely left his mark with one of the most unique and recognisable bodies of work in 20th Century painting. Inspired by everything from Abstract Expressionism to sports, Basquiat’s cultural references were as eclectic as his multi-layered techniques, with his energetic canvases combining text and image, mixing high and low culture and tackling ideas about race, freedom, life and death, to name but a few.

His retrospective Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time opened at the Guggenheim Bilbao on Friday and brings together some 100 drawings and paintings for the first thematic retrospective of the New York artist’s work.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time runs from July 3 – November 1 at the Guggenheim Bilbao.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat: Self-Portrait, 1984. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat: Dark Race Horse—Jesse Owens, 1983. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol: Win $ 1’000’000, 1984. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat: Self Portrait (Plaid), 1983. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat: Irony of a Negro Policeman, 1981. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Ring, 1981. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol: Ailing Ali in Fight of Life, 1984 (detail). © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York.

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Alexander Hawkins

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