The Uppers

THE UPPERS: Jean Michel Basquiat – ¨Your life is your message to the world. Make sure its inspiring. ¨

December 22, Jean-Michel Basquiat born at Brooklyn Hospital, New York. His father, Gerard Basquiat, born in  Port-au-Prince, Haiti; his mother, Matilde Andradas, born in Brooklyn of Puerto Rican parents.


The Haitian-American artist’s iconic drawings – his explanation of black identity in America – formed a major part of New York City’s artistic explosion in the early 1980s. They threw him into a world of recognition and celebrity, of friendship with Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol and David Bowie. But this came at a great price. On August 12th 1988, aged just 27, he was found dead in his apartment in NoHo, Manhattan after losing his struggle with heroin addiction.


Philosophy that inspires

¨Happiness will find you when you stop hiding.¨- Jean Michel Basquiat

Basquiat was truly cool. He didn’t try to be: he just was. He had interests ranging from hip-hop, jazz, baseball and boxing through to French poetry, the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and highbrow modernist art. It was the appreciation of the latter, and most likely his encounter with the art of American abstract expressionist painter Cy Twombly that gave Basquiat the confidence to go from graffiti to fine art.


One of Basquiat’s most iconic works were the multiple graffiti works inscribed, “SAMO IS DEAD” which appeared throughout Lower Manhattan. The graffiti, which to some would be seen as trespassing and vandalism, indicate Basquiat’s possession of the locations and ideas he worked with. Possession would prove a defining theme throughout the artist’s life.

Basquiat’s work itself showed many similarities to Renaissance paintings; the painting included multiple panels and revealed stretcher bars. In this particular piece, Basquiat lived out a struggle which was all too familiar to him; the racial reality of the United States. Intelligent and able to think for himself, Basquiat was very afraid, and often paranoid, of the trouble he faced as both a black man and a black artist in New York. He once told an interviewer, “I am not a black artist, I am an artist.” Though Basquiat made multiple trips to Africa and was heavily invested in African-American movements, he was also readily aware of the troubles he faced and the judgements made against him because of his race. This painting recreates his own ancestors’ arrival in the United States as slaves while also drawing attention to centers of African American culture.


Basquiat and Andy Warhol

In November of 1983 Basquiat and Warhol, whom Basquiat had met in 1981 through a mutual friend, began collaborating on a series of paintings. In one series of works, Warhol creates multiple works playing on the Olympic five-ringed symbol, which Basquiat opposes with his very different graffiti-style art. The collaboration lasted through 1985.


For Andy, it was love at first sight with Basquiat. It was unrequited, but they seemed to meet each other on a spiritual level and both benefited from the friendship. Some said Warhol was using Basquiat for his youth and fame, and others said the opposite, for Andy’s fame and influence. In this writer’s opinion, it was neither. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s friendship with Andy Warhol was a true meeting of the minds.


Jean-Michel Basquiat died in his New York loft on August 12, 1988. The cause of death was a drug overdose. Over three hundred admirers attended a November 5 memorial for the artist, a testament to his enduring legacy as both an artist and a rising sociopolitical force. His works continue to be exhibited, studied, and sold even today.

¨I don’t think about art when I am working. I try to think about life. ¨– Jean Michel Basquiat.

Joyful week The Good Life Blog readers and don’t forget that passion for life is the motor of happiness!

The Uppers