To paraphrase Whitman, we wend the shores we know, although our brains are wired to confuse the real and symbolic. This conceptual metaphor characterizes the work and existence of my idol, the nonpareil painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.
His rise and fall was rapid, dramatic, and emblematic of the 1980's. He was the sovereign king of the neo-expressionist tradition, the artistic genius of my generation. He was a generous and very funny lad, a poet, and an art collector's dream. In a celebrated photograph, he is seated on a stately wooden chair, dressed in Armani, his locks forming a crown around his head. The photograph conjures up the incarnation of a regal spirit from an interstellar mystical realm-- which is apt, because he painted like an angel.
Basquiat used paint, oil sticks, ink, and pastels on canvases, shipping pallets, doors, window frames, refrigerators, and wooden boxes. His paintings are huge and full of sound: they buzz and shriek and sing. Basquiat's iconography included the heroes of sports, boxing, music, and history who entered into his personal pantheon and remained there. There is an immediate message in each of Basquiat's paintings, combining text with an insurgence of color.
None perish as abruptly as the precocious. Basquiat was just beginning to grapple with the contradictions of success and his complicated beginnings (aren't they all?), when he died of a heroin overdose at 27. Jay-Z wrote a chapter for him in Decoded, noting that Basquiat painted "royalty, heroism, and the streets". How fortunate that we can relish Basquiat's work in the books and dvds owned by Milwaukee Public libraries.
Jane Michelle @ King Library