First major Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition in UK

20 September 2017, 20:23

He was the rock star painter who inspired rappers, filmmakers and street artists.

For the first time in the UK, the Barbican's major retrospective of Jean-Michel Basquiat gives audiences the chance to see his explosive expressionistic style up close.

"What's really amazing to see is the range of people who were inspired by his work," curator Eleanor Nairne admits.

"On one hand you have a film-maker like John Akomfra, who says that was it not for Basquiat he wouldn't be an artist today, (and on the other) a huge figure like Jay Z who not only cite him as a really influential figure but also own some of these pieces."

At the start of the 80s, in a matter of years, Jean-Michel Basquiat went from being a homeless graffiti artist to a star of New York's art scene.

"I never went to art school," he said. "I just looked at a lot of things, and that's why I think I learned about art by looking at it."

He emerged at a moment in New York when, for the first time, graffiti was being seen as art rather than a defacement, but Basquiat wasn't one to be pigeon-holed.

Ms Nairne says: "He was conscious in his own lifetime that this label of a street artist could be limiting to him.

"Although he is involved in graffiti that's quite a brief chapter in his career."

So what would Basquiat make of street artist Banksy's latest works which, at the start of the week, popped up on the side of the Barbican?

On social media the infamous art figure seems to mock the location of the Basquiat retrospective, writing how it's "a place that is normally very keen to clean any graffiti from its walls".

Diego Cortez, a curator and friend, believes "he'd like it".

"Of course, he's not alive and I'm just speculating, but I think he'd be honoured by it."

Almost as quickly as Basquiat's career begun it was over. At 27 he died of a heroin overdose.

Those who knew him say he'd found the rockstar-like attention he received overwhelming.

He'd collaborated with Andy Warhol, dated Madonna - the New York art scene of the 80s was wild.

Suzanne Mallouk knew him from when he was homeless through to his death.

"One day he came home with five Armani suits - he must have spent $40,000 - and he looked sad. He sat on the couch and said, 'Suzanne I don't know what else do buy - do you want something?'

"I think he was very attracted to the money but at the same time he saw a danger in the fame."

Now a psychologist, Ms Mallouk insists he had a rare gift.

"He is able to capture his own mind in a way that is profound and prolific. It's rare that someone, through creativity, can show someone their own mind like that."

Basquiat: Boom for Real runs at the Barbican Art Gallery until 28 January.

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