Jean-Michel Basquiat is a cultural icon. Along with Keith Harring, Andy Warhol, and many others, he defined a new way of understanding art. Popular, controversial, and raw, he was an artist with lightning-fast success and even an even faster demise; he died of an overdose at barely 28 years old, leaving an enormous trove of art behind him.
This fascinating bio translates various sources into one seamless narrative, drawn into vivid pop-art scenes—from his first appearances as a street artist legend known as SAMO until his last shows all over Europe, when a painting of his could reach sky-high prices, being as he was the first black painter to be treated as a pop star in every possible way.
Of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, Basquiat was born a New Yorker. He painted furiously and continuously, once even painting his girlfriend’s entire apartment from floor to ceiling. He also wrote thousands of notes. These are a primary source for this graphic novel.
The main message from this biography, I think, is that fame can be a lot like a drug. You become addicted to it, but it takes everything from you as well, and sometimes you need it so much that you overdose. Even when you try to leave it behind, to breathe a different air, you may still struggle. And the road to success is paved with those who couldn’t cope with it all.
Several voices are heard in this novel, from his father to his girlfriend to Andy Warhol’s impression of him to those of many others. It gives you a glimpse of what the ’80s art scene was like, both the good and the bad. Drugs are a big part of it as well. They were everywhere: at parties, at homes, in bathrooms, and on the streets. Their pervasive and toxic influence is also well portrayed.
You have to wonder whether Basquiat would have survived if his entourage would have been a bit more supportive: by helping him get through his drug addiction and focus on his art. He sincerely thought he was going to be the next Picasso, and given enough time, he might have been. His work is instantly recognizable. His rage, his force, his wonderful use of color and mixed media remain with us, and we lost a great icon with his death.
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Format: 9½ x 6¾ in. Hardcover, 128 Pages
Genre: Biography, Adult
Featured image by Paolo Parisi, all images belong to Laurence King