A time of masterpieces, a time of creation, colour, and drama, the ’80s brought a lot to the table. The ’80s was a roaring time for art and aesthetics; it was a poignant moment to create a difference, to create, period; this time saw Basquiat rise as a star. Jean-Michel Basquiat was a true example of metamorphosis, and his journey is truly breathtaking. People glorify the dead, and more so if that person consists of a semblance of artistic talent and vibrant persona. 

Jean-Michel was a walking contradiction to all those who knew him or his art, he has always been on the two extremes of the scale, but one thing that remains unchanged is that he was special.

1. Untitled (Black Skull) 1982 | Jean-Michel Basquiat

Location: The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Medium: Acrylic, oil stick, and spray paint on canvas.
Style: Neo-Expressionism

This piece of art, set in a theme extracted from Basquiat’s African heritage and outlined in the style of Neo-Expressionist, thickly applied confident strokes detail a much deeper context to the painting. The painting paints several images, the skull representing ‘Momento Mori‘ and the scales of injustice towards the black men. It is set against a starkness of ebony paint with a prominent white skull that strikes bright and piquant in the painting. 

Glancing upon this masterpiece makes the strokes look effortless, but upon closer introspection, it showcases the artist’s intense thought process and ability of symbolism.

2. Untitled (History Of Black People) 1983

Location: The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Medium: Acrylic paint and oil paint stick on panel.
Style: Neo-Expressionism, Street Art

This multi-panel painting represents a lot to the artist and the black community; it is a story of racial diaspora among the community, their struggle with slavery, resistance, and clarity. Jean’s portrayal of the truth of the history of Egypt, its whitewashed facade brought forth due to the invasion of western civilization, and the tie between Egypt and the black community is at the forefront of this painting. 

The other several nuances throughout this piece are the journey of the artist’s arrival on the shore of the American continent, the subtle representation of slavery, a reconciliation with his African heritage, and music through a wide range of re Renaissance in religion.

3. Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper) 1986-87 | Jean-Michel Basquiat

Location: The Andy Warhol Museum
Medium: Acrylic and oil stick on punching bags.
Style: Neo-Expressionism

This religious masterpiece inspired by the famous painting created by Leonardo da Vinci in collaboration with Andy Warhol creates a good contrast compared to the original work. The artwork is done on white punching bags with Jesus in the forefront with the word judge written across each bag multiple times. The bags being a metaphor for the emotional and physical torment Christ undertook for his people. 

The two varied styles of the artists are visible through Warhol’s carefully created colour composition and Basquiats’s chaotic and expressive renderings of Jesus and the motifs surrounding it.

4. Riding With Death 1988

Location: Private Collection
Medium: Acrylic and Crayon, on canvas.
Style: Neo-Expressionism, Street Art

Basquiat was never shy in representing and putting forth the injustice towards his ancestors and his communities through his paintings. This sombre and foreboding painting depicts what could only be Basquiat’s last few days of struggle and control. The painting of the African skeleton rider atop a white skeleton set against the backgrounds of brown, sprawling meadows is more introspective of the artist himself and his experience as a black man in 1980s’ racially backward America. 

The painting creates a notion of a black disarrayed skeleton closer to his moment of death than anticipated while having no control over it, as the painter’s rise in addiction towards ‘heroin’ abuse. This painting like most others is representative of many things Basquiat held close to his heart and is the cleanest of the others, a contrast to the chaos ensuing in his mind.

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