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I had linked to Jean-Michel Basquiat on my last post because Absolut Rodrigue sold more art pieces than did Absolut Basquiat. The link entry tells us “he began as an obscure graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s and evolved into an acclaimed Neo-expressionist and Primitivist painter by the 1980s.” Basquiat was also a poet, musician and producer.

So as an obscure graffiti artist in 1976, he and his friend spray-painted  buildings in Lower Manhattan, using the pseudonym SAMO (same old shit) for three years. I guess they got into some sort of a fight because the friendship ended. The epitaph, “SAMO IS DEAD,” was spray-painted all around SoHo.

Absolut Basquiat — c. 1985 – 1987

I’m skipping over a lot of his biography to get to Basquiat’s collaboration with Andy Warhol. Wiki says Basquiat met Warhol (in 1980) at a restaurant, where he showed samples of his work to Warhol, who was “stunned by Basquait’s genius and allure.” 

At the suggestion of Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger, Warhol and Basquiat worked on a series of collaborative paintings between 1983 and 1985.

Over at Dangerous Minds, Bischofberger explains how the collaboration came to happen, and his own role in setting it up. His account differs somewhat from Wiki in that Warhol wasn’t initially “stunned by Basquiat’s genius and allure.”

In the autumn of 1982 I brought Jean-Michel to Andy Warhol in the Factory and this is how they really got to know each other. …

Dos Cabezas, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1982)

Warhol photographed Basquiat with his special Polaroid portrait camera. Jean-Michel asked Warhol whether he could also take a photo of him, took some shots and then asked me to take some photos of him and Warhol together.

We then wanted to go next door to have the customary cold buffet lunch. Basquiat did not want to stay and said goodbye.

We had hardly finished lunch, one, at most one and half an hour later, when Basquiat‘s assistant appeared with a 5′ x 5 work on canvas, still completely wet, a double portrait depicting Warhol and Basquiat: Andy on the left in his typical pose resting his chin on his hand, and Basquiat on the right with the wild hair that he had at the time.

The painting was titled Dos Cabezas. The assistant had run the ten to fifteen blocks from Basquiat‘s studio on Crosby Street to the Factory on Union Square with the painting in his hands because it wouldn’t fit into a taxi.

All visitors and employees at the Factory flocked around to see the painting, which was admired by all. Most astonished of all was Andy who said: “I‘m really jealous – he is faster than me.” Soon thereafter Warhol made a portrait of Basquiat on several equally large canvases …

“General Electric With Waiter’ — Basquiat and Warhol (1984)

There’s more to read from Bischofberger about Basquiat’s collaboration with Warhol (and other artists) on the Dangerous Minds link. I like the way the following quote by Ronny Cutrone, Warhol’s longtime studio assistant, sums up Basquiat’s relationship with Warhol:

Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was an American artist and the first artist of African descent to become an international art star

It was like some crazy-art world marriage and they were the odd couple. The relationship was symbiotic. Jean-Michel thought he needed Andy’s fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel’s new blood. Jean Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again. 


EPILOGUE: When Andy Warhol died on Feb. 22, 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated. His heroin addiction and depression grew more severe.

Despite an attempt at sobriety during a trip to Maui, Hawaii, Basquiat died on Aug, 12, 1988, of a heroin overdose at his art studio in Great Jones Street in New York City’s NoHo neighborhood.

He was 27 years old.