Friday, April 01, 2005
The number of artists who have mananged to revolutionize both the avant-garde and mainstream art worlds and also be influenced by and be an influence on hip hop culture stops at one guy - Jean Michel Basquiat.
Basquiat is one of those figures in pop culture that it's hip to be into without really knowing anything about them (like rocking a Che Guevera t-shirt or name checking the Velvets and never having heard their music). I won't front like I'm any kind of art expert but, from everything I've read or learned about him, he was an incredibly charismatic but polarizing figure whose art had the same effect. His art pulled from many styles and influences to create a body of work that still seems fresh and exciting in a post-modern world where the language of contemporary and modern art is practically old hat. But don't take my or the so-called "experts'" word for it, go check out an exhibit of over 150 pieces of his work at the Brooklyn Museum running though June 5 for yourself:
"This exhibition gathers together more than one hundred of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s finest works, including many that have never been shown in the United States. It is organized chronologically, with special sections highlighting Basquiat’s interest in music, language, and Afro-Caribbean imagery, along with his use of techniques such as collage and silkscreen.
The exhibition seeks to demonstrate not only that Basquiat was a key figure in the 1980s, but also that his artistic accomplishments have significance for twentieth-century art as a whole. Basquiat was the last major painter in an idiom that had begun decades earlier in Europe with the imitation of African art by modern artists such as Picasso and Matisse. Inspired by his own heritage, Basquiat both contributed to and transcended the African-influenced modernist idiom." (Click here for more info from the official exhibit website)
A Basquiat biography from his official website.
Here's a few images of some of my favorite pieces from the exhbit which I checked out over the Easter weekend with my family. It should go without saying that a few jpegs hardly do these works justice so heading out to the museum to see them live is mandatory.
Horn Players (1983):
Natives Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites on Safari (1983):
Hollywood Africans (1983):
And here's a shot of the 1983 12" single "Beat Bop" by K-Rob vs. Rammelzee, original pressings of which were declared the most expensive hip hop record of all time at $1000 by ego trip's Book of Rap Lists due to the fact that Basquiat designed the cover. Luckily for poor shlubs like me who can't afford to cop an original, this ahead-of-its-time track was reissued a couple years back. Apparently there was even a verse of Basquiat rhyming on the original version of "Beat Bop" which was excised before the final mix due to some sort of disagreement between him and Rammelzee. CD heads can hear the full track -- but won't get the Basquiat cover, obvs -- on the excellent Diggin' in the Crates Profile Records compilation. (mp3 courtesy tunes.co.uk)
But to end - get ready to cop the Basquiat action figure (WTF?!!) (spotted via Catchdubs, natch)