In Seoul, South Korea, an art exhibition extended its show dates in response to its immense popularity. Lines of people following all guidelines of COVID-19 regulations waited patiently to see this renowned artist’s works with their own eyes. And I, myself, am grateful to have made my visit into the world of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Jean-Michel Basquiat is a New York-based artist born between a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother. From a young age, his love for art was nurtured by his mother’s support, which enabled Basquiat to freely explore the domain of art. Despite his fair share of rebellious youth, he ultimately fulfilled his destiny in becoming the hero of his childhood.
Basquiat’s earliest endeavors at age 18 included street art with his pal Al Diaz. For two years, they graffitied the streets of New York with their bold commentaries about the world. Notably, their signature of SAMO© (meaning same old sh**) became identifiable by the NY artists community as they were in awe of Basquiat’s passion and undeniable talent.
Over time, Basquiat moved on from street art into painting, and his fame caught like wildfire. From hand-painting T-shirts on the streets to earn some cash, Basquiat soon became the cover of magazines, collaborated with Andy Warhol, and exhibited his work internationally.
Beyond his societal recognition, Basquiat paved a way in revealing the neglected reality through his art. Inspirations for his paintings arose from his own experience of the 20th century, photographing the truth and pointing out the wrong. He candidly presents the complex entanglement of violence and brutality with social injustice while also painting numerous black figures, namely musicians and athletes, and crowns them as the champions of his contemporary time.
I have always been fascinated by Basquiat’s works as he is one of the significant artists who has changed the course of art. Recalling my first encounter with Basquiat, his artwork appeared childlike. The seemingly messy doodles were so drastically different from the ones I’ve witnessed in museums. But with a greater awareness driven by genuine curiosity, I came to admire the honesty and power he had in transcending stereotypes for art and artists. Consequently, it was surreal to observe his work in person.
Even though Basquiat passed away at a young age, his legacy endures in his artworks against the flow of time, and the impact survives through the eyes of the beholder and spirits of the public.
For years, art was considered a sport for the upper-class, solely accessible for viewers and achievable for artists of privileged backgrounds. Unfortunately, it still remains somewhat of a trend today. For instance, consider the famous British actors and their biographies and you will see that their educational background and family history implies innate advantages. Although this does not deem their fame or talent as undeserving, it does question the availability of art relative to one’s economic status.
Since Jean-Michel Basquiat rose above the system’s flaws, there have been a lot of improvements that have created fairer opportunities within the realm of art. For now, many sources allow us to become acquainted with artists and their works through virtual galleries, YouTube collections, podcasts, articles, journals, vlogs, and many more! Even though we still need a lot more adjustments to be made, it is clear that no societal expectations can deny us the right to enrich our love for art.
“Making good art is revenge enough. That’s why I feel no nostalgia for the misery I lived in. All my energy scattered then, without following any particular path. Now I’m a lot happier.” – Jean-Michel Basquiat
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