Exhibitions: Basquiat

Music was intensely important to Basquiat. As a teenager, he co-founded an art band called Gray that mixed ska and punk with "noise muzik." He also performed in Deborah Harry's video for the song "Rapture," and produced his own record, "Beat Bop," now recognized as an early hip-hop classic. He was close friends with the hip-hop impresario and first MTV veejay Fab 5 Freddy, and he briefly dated Madonna.

When Basquiat turned his energies to painting full time, music became a subject in his art. Jazz musicians and singers—among them Miles Davis, Max Roach, Billie Holiday, and Fats Waller—figured prominently in his paintings from 1983 to 1985. He especially loved bebop, a style that originated in the 1940s and emphasized free, rhythmic improvisation. One of its leading innovators, Charlie Parker, was Basquiat's most cherished cultural icon.

With its combination of music, dynamic wordplay, performance, and graffiti writing, Basquiat's art embodied the hip-hop movement during its infancy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of those who knew him have spoken of Basquiat's ability to soak up information, and in true hip-hop fashion, he incorporated what he needed: his pop poetry evokes the emcee. The lists of words—cut, pasted, recycled, and repeated—function like beats, controlling the composition. And Basquiat approached the process of making art like a deejay: culling text, symbols, imagery, and styles from disparate sources and mixing them into something completely original.

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