February 11, 2009 7:26 PM
Basquiat: An Artist's Fast Life
Through his art, Basquiat spoke about the black American experience. He paid homage to boxers and jazz musicians. He created his own pantheon.
"Every one of his paintings is an improvisation. He's working intuitively. He didn't prepare them," says Mayer. "It's as if he's painting in public... It's 'Right now, right here I'm going to make a picture.' And... that's like jazz, very much.... Except the jazz musicians are having a conversation with each other, Basquiat's having a conversation with art history."
A figure donning a beret, with his finger to his temple, is supposed to be Rodin's "Thinker."
"It's a wonderful gag. It's hysterically funny," says Mayer.
Another work is a history of the world, encompassing everything from Joseph and pyramids, all the philosophers and Greece and Rome, and everything else, down to Creole culture, emancipation and the Washington Red Skins.
"It's everything," says Mayer, "just including all of human knowledge and human history into one body of work. As if he knew everything and was part of everything. As if he was the ultimate genius of all time. And a crazy person to boot."
In August of 1988, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose. He was 27.
He left behind works numbering in the thousands.
"And so, it's amazing that there is so much variety in it.... The found objects.... His last works are full of text and signs.... He had an inventory of ideas that just blow your mind. He could have gone on forever... because he had that much up in here. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way," says Mayer.
In his short life, Basquiat's father told us, the one thing Jean-Michel craved above all else was to become a part of art history. In 2002, Basquiat's "Profit" sold at a Christie's auction for $5.5 million. Today, the estimated value of his body of work is in the hundreds of millions. Basquiat wouldn't have cared about the money, but he would have loved the headline.
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