• gerard van weyenbergh

Jean-Michel Basquiat, decadence of a genius part 1/2

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born three days before Christmas 1960, on December 22, in Brooklyn, just at the end of the bridge that leads to Manhattan. An accountant father, Gérard Basquiat, who fled Haiti where the Duvalier regime's dictatorship placed his name on the red list of opponents. A mother, Matilde, of Puerto Rican origin who takes care of the house. Before Jean-Michel, Matilde gave birth to a first boy, named Max, who died within days. In the parents' eyes, Jean-Michel will be the heir of this lost child who he would resemble like two drops of water. Two daughters, Lisane and Janine, will complete the family.

Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up in the Park Slope district, reserved for the middle class and the petty bourgeoisie. Then in larger apartments, and ever more prosperous neighborhoods, Flatbush and Boerum Hill. He is a little boy with round cheeks, well dressed, happy to be alive. With his father - whose relationship will soon be more and more complicated - he listens to jazz, bebop, and Charlie Parker's standards.

He learns to draw with his mother and will soon never let go of a pencil or brush again, doodling wherever he can. At six, he already had his Brooklyn Museum membership card. His mother often takes him to Manhattan, to the prestigious Metropolitan, where the two spend hours in front of the Egyptian statues, the 18 Rembrandts, and the 21 Cézanne.

The artist will one day be more expensive than Picasso, signs at the age of seven his first stroke of brilliance. He mailed one of his first drawings to the FBI's all-powerful director at the time, seen on TV. A revolver. John Edgar Hoover will not give him any answer.

Jean-Michel Basquiat has a hardworking father who drives a Mercedes, a caring mother overseeing his education, a lovely room in a comfortable apartment that overlooks a park and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. However, he will strive, all his life, to transform the tranquil picture of his childhood into a much darker, poor, and disinherited world. As if normality frightened him.

" I never understood why Jean-Michel tried to make everyone believe that he had grown up in the ghetto," his father said one day. The painter, now famous, will claim his taste for circumventing the truth: " I don't think it's good to be honest in interviews. I think it's better to lie", he will say. Basquiat will thus spend his time disguising his past. Making its existence a labyrinth in which everyone will get lost.

Jean-Michel Basquiat is a tall, slim, and smiling teenager. If he prefers the street to school, it is at City As School, an open school where teachers are beatniks who preach indiscipline, that he meets Al Diaz, a boy of his age. Diaz introduced him to this urban art, which began to flourish on the city walls, graffiti. The two boys will quickly cover warehouses, water towers, and metro corridors with colorful figures. They end up signing their works of four letters S, A, M, O. Shortcut to same old shit, which means "good old weed," referring to the joints that the two friends continuously smoke. The SAMO adventure is no anecdote in Jean-Michel Basquiat's career. It will allow him to stand out. Even if, to his dismay, he was forever cataloged, by some pundits of contemporary art, as a street artist.

© RTL.FR Video in French : https://podcasts.apple.com/fr/podcast/jean-michel-basquiat-la-d%C3%A9cadence-dun-g%C3%A9nie-artistique/id1346539657?i=1000502918583