Things you didn't know about Basquiat

Photo by Tseng Kwong Chi Copyright 1987 Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc.

The show of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s notes, poems, and sketches at Perez Art Museum Miami, “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks,” reveals a personal side of the artist who’s become a popular icon as well as one of the most highly regarded and highest-priced artists in the world. Here are 12 things you probably didn’t know about Basquiat, who died of a heroin overdose in 1988, at the age of 27.

 

A still from “A Conversation with Basquiat” 2006 (Tamra Davis) Photo: Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum Courtesy of the artist. By permission of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rights reserved.

1. Basquiat’s mother was Puerto Rican; and his father was a Haitian immigrant who fled the regime of dictator Papa Doc Duvalier after his parents were jailed and his brother killed. Basquiat spoke Spanish and Creole as well as English.

2. He ran away from his Brooklyn home when he was a teenager, and was homeless for a while.

3. When he was six his spleen was removed after he was hit by a car; which would hurt his health later on.

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat on the set of “Downtown 81,” 1980-81. 35mm slide. Edo Bertoglio Copywright New York Beat Films, LLC. Courtesy Maripol. By permission of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rights reserved

4. As graffiti painters began attracting the art world’s attention in the late ’70s, Basquiat became known for writing cryptic poems on the walls of downtown New York’s Soho art district, using the name “SAMO,” which stood for “Same Old S—“

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled Notebook Page, circa 1987. Wax crayon on ruled notebook paper. Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum Collection of Larry Warsh. Copyright Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rights reserved.

5. The notebooks in the PAMM show were found by Michael Holman and Nicholas Taylor, bandmates with Basquiat in a punk/art/experimental band called Gray (probably for the medical book “Gray’s Anatomy,” an obsession and source for Basquiat); Basquiat lived with Taylor for a time.

6. Girlfriend Suzanne Mallouk (pictured, above left, with the artist) who is half-Palestinian and whom Basquiat courted while she bartended at a downtown bar, supported him when he began making art after he came home weeping from a day at a regular job. He filled her apartment, including her refrigerator, with paintings.

  

“Jean Michel Basquiat in his Great Jones Street studio, New York, 1987” Photo by Tseng Kwong Chi Copyright 1987 Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc.

7. He met Andy Warhol, one of his idols, by going into a restaurant where Warhol was eating and selling him some cards that were Basquiat’s first artworks. The two artists became close friends and collaborated on paintings (two are in the PAMM show.)

 

8. Basquiat briefly appears as a DJ in the video for Blondie’s “Rapture,” a hit that introduced rap to mainstream pop culture.

 

9. In addition to Mallouk, Basquiat dated Madonna and Jennifer Goode, one of the people behind Area, the art-driven club that was an anchor of the New York scene in the early ’80s.

10. He was powerfully affected by the death of Michael Stewart, a young black artist on the downtown club scene who was killed by police in 1983 for tagging in a subway station, in what became one of New York’s most famous instances of police brutality. When Basquiat learned of Stewart’s death, he said “it could have been me.”

11. He loved Hawaii, and had recently returned from the island, saying he had kicked drugs, when he died of a heroin overdose at home.

 

An untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Photo: Christie’s)

12. Last May one of Basquiat’s paintings sold for $57.3 million, a record for his work. If he had still been alive, he would have been 55.


 

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