Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective – Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

We’ve been procrastinating all month to go and see the works of the New York based Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, on avenue du Président Wilson in the 16th arrt., a retrospective, marking  the fiftieth anniversary of his birth.  Finally, we found ourselves queuing, in a line of a 100 or more people, with great anticipation.

Basquiat, of mixed Puerto Rican and Haitian descent, has always fascinated and intrigued.  Upon coming face to face with his work, we were enraptured – astonishingly, he had the talent and ability to make every painting come to life.  We felt we were in the presence of an entity that was larger than life.

Looking intimately at his canvases, we were faced with a vibrant and powerful persona, albeit an obsessive one.  After being involved in a car accident at age seven – while staying at the hospital, his mother bought him the classic textbook “Gray’s Anatomy”, which influenced many of his great works, repeatedly incorporating the anatomy of humans, e.g. intestines, liver, spleen, a pumping heart, etc.

He also represented his Haitian, Hispanic/Black heritage by references to the slave trade of blacks by whites in the plantation system.  He was also obsessed by skulls, which appeared in many of his paintings, voodoo and death.

His art seems simple – like a child’s sketching or scribbling, initially signing his early works with “SAMO” , as well as repeating phrases or names of people he knew (“Madonna”, “Cassius Clay”), or nationalities, countries, etc. – sometimes simple words like “Sugar”, “Nigger”,  going to the more sinister “cocaine” and “amphetamines”.  However, complex and turbulent emotions lie beneath the apparent simplicity of the images.


We had the overwhelming feeling that we were in the presence of some kind of genius – and the workings of an incredible mind.  His powerful energy in his bold strokes of flamboyant colours – bright reds, azuré blues, black, etc. reminded us of a Haitian Picasso.

As he became increasingly isolated (after the death of his friend and collaborator Andy Warhol), by cutting himself off from friends and becoming more and more dependent on his heroin addiction, Basquiat became increasingly depressed.  He died on August 12, 1988, aged 27.

We left his great works of amazing art with a feeling of elation – we felt he was looking down at all his adoring fans with a huge, precocious grin.

Viva Basquiat!


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