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Happy Birthday: Jean-Michel Basquiat

DECEMBER 22, 2006
Well boys and girls, join me is wishing a "Happy Birthday!" greeting to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The painter would have been 46 years old today (Dec. 22). While his lustre in death pales next to other  pop icons, he is equally interesting if only to a more limited audience. Even the most conservative artist might benefit from revisiting the fantastic years that saw Basquiat's meteoric rise to art world stardom. Naturally, it's a cautionary tale! Here's my blurb for this day's birthday boy:

"Basquiat was a seminal figure in the arc of 1980’s American painting and lifestyle as art. He embodied a concept that the desire an individual had was sufficient to gain merit. I don’t mean that his paintings are without merit: I think they are beautiful, enigmatic, full of truth and are worth detailed appreciation. What was not taught in my art schools, and, perhaps, should be, is the power and necessity of ambition in an artistic vocation. A course of case studies would be enough to implant (or dispell!) a variety of fantasies about this career.

Jean Michel Basquiat’s strategies seem commonplace now and his unwitting followers are legion. Look at the continued viability of graffiti and ephemera as a legitimate graphic trend. We trumpet our adolescent doodles as significant markers of our genius on lined paper and hoodies. These gestures are a wellspring of art, they are our roots music. The street becomes a springboard to the gallery. But where does the street end and the gallery begin?

Perhaps what led partially to Basquiat’s predictable demise were the competing demands of the gallery and art world and the ancient joy of striking out on one’s own when new in town without a thing to lose dancing to the light of his own fire. All this, and more, in the awakening grime of New York in 1981."
Topical: artist birthdays