Forget anything you thought you knew about Basquiat, or his art. Going to the Barbican exhibition ‘Boom for Real’ baffles one’s strongest principles. The first ever gathering of Basquiat’s work in one place in London overthrows your art convictions and reaches, if not exceeds your expectations. Jean Michel Basquiat’s impressive work spreads over two floors of mind-blowing eclecticism.

The street and pop art inspired, politically charged, multi-coloured drawings and sketches finished off with the iconic crown-signature is what immediately pops into anyone’s mind when hearing the artist’s name. However, do not even attempt putting Basquiat in an artistic category – that would mean to understand his influences and objectives and therefore his art, which is, of course, close to impossible. He studied Michelangelo’s art and research about the human body religiously but remained loyal to the making and philosophy of African masks and totems. The artist emerged himself in art of all kind- from producing music to movies (Downtown 81), poetry, drawings and of course painting. Thus getting to know people from completely different backgrounds and industry that formed the New York underground artistic scene.

Basquiat: Boom For Real Installation view Barbican Art Gallery 21 September 2017 – 28 January 2018 © Tristan Fewings

Basquiat born in 1960s Brooklyn from an immigrant Haitian working class father and Puerto-Rican mother perfectly encapsulated the talented misfit that caught the attention of the roaring city. After dropping out of school at seventeen, he started doing street art and under his character “SAMO©” caught everyone’s attention through an unprecedented skill and depth of the graffiti. This himble start assured his meteoric rise to stardom that even tapped into collaborations with the much acclaimed and pop art symbol Andy Warhol (Self-Portrait of Basquiat and Warhol : ‘Dos Cabezas’ ).

Jean-Michel Basquiat – Dos cabezas [1982]

Beyond the Jean Michel being bathed in mainstream western art his inspirations go beyond conventional narrative. Although he never attended any art school or had officially trained to become an artist he was always interested in studying and researching from art history, philosophy to black cultural history and early cinema. His main inspirations were Da Vinci, Manet, Marcel Duchamp and Picasso, thus proving his extended knowledge and complex understanding of varied styles and epochs of creation. As writer Glenn o’Brien wrote shortly after the artist’s death: “He ate up every image, every word, every bit of data that appeared in front of him and he processed it all into a bepop cubist pop art cartoon gospel that synthesized the whole overload we lived under into something that made an astonishing new sense”.

Jean-Michel Basquiat – Untitled (Pablo Picasso) [1984]

This gives a minuscule insight into Basquiat’s whirlwind of unconventional experience and controversial life. The post-exhibition trance state that Basquiat’s art induces left me with one unanswerable thought: One can only wonder about what his signature scribbled crown would have landed on, where his unequalled thirst for discovery and creation paired with unmeasurable skill would have led him to, if he wouldn’t have perished at the early age of 27.

21 Sep 2017 – 28 Jan 2018, Sunday to Wednesday, 10am – 6pm Thursday to Saturday, 10am – 10pm (last entry 9.30pm)
Barbican Centre
Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS