Artworks
Six Crimee

Contributor

I hate to break it to you, but you are not dreaming right now. This unsettling imagery was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s everyday, his true reality.

Not known to paint rainbows and butterflies, Basquiat forced people to see the inequality and struggles that befall us. Basquiat once said, “I do not think about art when I work, I think about life.” If that’s true this tumultuous painting doesn’t bode well for his biopic. That's not to imply he was faking the tortured artist thing. His angst is understandable considering his upbringing.

Basquiat’s mother was committed to a mental institution when he was a teen. A few years later his father kicked him out of their house and he had to transform the New York streets into a home. While Basquiat’s life eventually did a major 180, this man experienced pain and suffering firsthand. And given his relentless determination to reflect that in his art, it’s not surprising that some people are put off by his raw, aggressive imagery. 

Here, we see six black figures with halos over their heads surrounded by a plethora of symbols that only Basquiat’s mind could translate. Once, when asked to describe his work Jean-Michel replied, "You don't ask Miles Davis how his horn sounds. I don't know, I am usually in front of the television." A man after our own heart! The figures in this piece are a combination of people Basquiat knew from his personal life and famous African Americans throughout history. This painting also shows the influence of his life as a prolific graffiti artist in the late 70's with the scratchy, quick-handed lines and letters. (Basquiat went by the tag line "SAMO" which meant "same old sh*t" and tagged all over Manhattan's Lower East Side.)

Many people believe that if one is to truly understand the meaning of an artwork, one must walk a mile in the artist’s shoes, so to speak, and try to channel their creative energy. To do this for Basquiat you would first have to become homeless, develop a heroin addiction and become best friends with Andy Warhol. While I like to think that Warhol and I would quickly become chums, I’ll pass on the other two criteria and take this painting at face value - as another confusing, creepy, yet dramatically stunning and evocative Basquiat.