• gerard van weyenbergh

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

Instant success

In 1978, Jean-Michel Basquiat, almost 18, left the family home for good. He goes without looking back, without suspecting that his life will be meteoric, glorious, and tragic. He wishes a destiny with the firm intention of becoming famous and being as renowned as a popstar.

" As soon as I was 17, I thought I could be a star. I thought about my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix. I wondered how they got famous." Basquiat left to himself, roams the New York night. Nobody knows him, but he quickly blends into this setting that suits him so well. These ephemeral clubs where drugs are everywhere and high street claimed as a way of life. Basquiat doesn't have a dime, slaps everyone he meets money, paints on T-shirts and postcards. On great days, he makes ten or twelve dollars. At the Mudd Club, the most hype place of the moment, he appears with a host of girls. The French Elisabeth Hullin, one of his first conquests, will say: " Jean-Michel was handsome, tall, sexy elegant. He had a crazy charm. I fell for it like many others ".


Jean-Michel Basquiat may be magnetic, attractive, seductive. Achieve the feat of being already known when he has not proven anything. Not easy for him to be anything other than a night owl and become someone. The streets are his only kingdom, and he is black. Since his childhood, he has faced racism. When he earns a lot of money, he will continue to be ignored by taxis and not allowed in certain restaurants.


One day, he will pay the bill for a whole table of young people who, behind his back, were ironic about his draw and the color of his skin. History to show that he had taken power. For the moment, he doesn't know anyone and dreams of meeting his idol, the pope of pop art, the man who makes rain and shine in new artists.

One evening he spotted him in a restaurant where he was seated with a museum curator. He decides to enter with a handful of his painted cards. The curator asks him to move away, but Warhol buys him a few cards. These collages and juxtapositions of images, sold for 2 or 3 dollars, will one day be worth more than 20,000 dollars. Andy Warhol will eventually adopt Basquiat as a rowdy son. He will be his mentor, his protector, her guardian angel, the common thread of her short life.


For Jean-Michel Basquiat, success is instantaneous. We begin to argue over his paintings, drawings, painted objects, and even the little cards that nobody wanted. He had sold his very first painting to singer Debbie Harry for $ 200. A year later fetches $ 20,000. Never has the paint market experienced such inflation. Basquiat lets himself be sucked into a whirlwind that he does not control, money, drugs, girls, and the fever of creation. Frantic excitement. He paints day and night, sometimes bordering on suffocation and apnea. "When he painted, he didn't breathe; he went to the extreme possibility of his strength. Then he ran to the window and inhaled the air",


In 1985, Jean-Michel Basquiat was at his peak. He poses barefoot and in costume on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. The article is titled New Art, New Money. Basquiat appears as the symbol of this revolution. In four years, he has become one of the most expensive and coveted artists on the planet. The coveted celebrity is there, but Basquiat is taciturn. All these years of high school seem to have altered the character. Become suspicious, suspicious, paranoid.


This magazine cover is, in his eyes, only a facade. He is convinced that great collectors consider him a minor artist, a graffiti artist. He feels unloved, despised. He is angry with the whole earth, with dealers, gallery owners, journalists. Basquiat feels insulted when The New York Times writes that he is the mascot of contemporary art and the protégé of Warhol. Why not a puppet? This time we don't take it seriously. He hides at home like a hermit. The rumor will then spread that the most expensive painter in the world is ill, suffering from the new plague, AIDS. It is not, but Jean-Michel Basquiat is indeed a shaky shadow. At 25, he seems twenty more. © France Culture