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jtucker's picture


Live fast, die young is the perfect motto for Jean-Michel Basquiat.

As a member of the "27 club," this painting is an iconic reminder of his tumultuous life. Much of Basquiat’s work is autobiographical and this painting may be a self portrait of sorts, which is a bit disconcerting to say the least. This figure appears to be in a painful limbo between life and death. The face looks depressed and it's as if there are lobotomy scars across the head. See, Basquiat did not live a life of blissful stardom. He was plagued by the quintessential “tortured artist” syndrome and dealt with these issues by partying like a madman. And these tendencies started young. Once he ran away for two weeks and, as he explains, "I left home at 15, and went to Washington Square Park. I just sat there dropping acid...Now that all seems boring.” If dropping acid for two weeks straight in a park is boring to him, you can only imagine how his precocious drug appetite developed with age. Needless to say, Basquiat was not always a shining beacon of mental clarity, which is quite evident when looking at this painting.  

Basquiat’s creative process was characterized by furious drug benders in which he would pump out works in a matter of days. This work on the other hand, took him months to complete, arguably adding to the mysterious allure of this painting and fueling people's infatuation with it.

Skulls are all over the place in Basquiat’s artistic repertoire, and his fascination with the human skeletal structure may be the result of reading Grey’s Anatomy at the age of seven. Why, you might ask, would a rambunctious seven year old spend his days absorbed in medical texts instead of playing tag on the playground? Well, Basquiat was hit by a car and during his recovery his mother gave him that book. Crazy to think that while I was still reading Nancy Drew, Basquiat was decoding the very real enigma of the human anatomy. But then again, I suppose there are a multitude of reasons why Basquiat is famous and I am not. Sure, he may have had it all; from a friendship with Andy Warhol to a boat load of money, but it is paintings such as this one that remind us of his emotional struggle and his untimely date with mortality.