Exhibitions: Basquiat

Becoming a Professional Artist
By 1982, at the remarkably young age of twenty-one, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a successful professional artist, living from the sale of his work. In what might be compared to a musician's winning multiple Grammy awards in a single year, he mounted six acclaimed solo shows in 1982, in New York, Los Angeles, Zurich, Rome, and Rotterdam. That same year, he became the youngest artist ever to be included in Documenta, a major international contemporary art exhibition held every five years in Germany. And when Basquiat exhibited at the Fun Gallery, in the East Village, critics praised his exceptional talent and originality.

Along with his meteoric commercial success, 1982 was also Basquiat's most prolific year as an artist: at least two hundred of his paintings bear that date, including many of his finest. The early 1980s witnessed a revival of Expressionist figure painting in art, and Basquiat's works from 1981 had already established him as a key player in that movement. A new breed of artists had emerged, one that was impatient with the austere rigors of so-called high modernism and eager to reform art by making recognizable images about contemporary life in the Expressionist style of early modernism from decades before. Their success with collectors grown flush from the booming economy encouraged more artists and broader experimentation. Basquiat's ambitious works of 1982, with their evocative use of text, collage, and an ever-widening range of references, demonstrate his growing intellectual ambition while recalling the exhilarating spirit of the time.

Basquiat's paintings from these years often revolve around single, heroic, black, male figures. In these images, the head is a central focus, topped by crowns and halos. Here, Basquiat explores the intellect, creativity, and emotional complexity of his human hero.

Next: Crowns, Halos, and Heroes
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