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The prodigy

Earlier this year, at a Sotheby’s auction, an Untitled artwork of a skull created with oil stick and spray paint set a new record high for any U.S. artist at auction, selling for $110,500,000 to a Japanese collector. The artist was Jean Michel Basquiat.

The pioneering prodigy of the 1980s downtown New York art scene, Basquiat went from being homeless and unemployed to selling single works for over $25000, dating Madonna and working with Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Blondie, amongst others.

A self-taught artist, poet, DJ and musician, his approach was to pull from all strata of New York City’s contemporary culture as well as from world history. Combining all of these interests into his artwork, Basquiat created a highly personal brand of painting that was a total rejection of the dominant work of the time.

Although he died of a heroin overdose in 1988 aged just 27, his work still resonates, and continues to influence, today. Supreme and Reebok have used the artist’s image or work on their products and Jay-Z constantly references the artist in his lyrics.

Maybe it was being raised in a trilingual Brooklyn household that gave Basquiat a wonderful fluidity between different languages and a fantastic capacity to distill ideas down into phrases, images and symbols laden with meaning. Some have said his observations have even more relevance today than they did back then, now you can make your own mind up.

‘Basquiat: Boom for Real’ is the first large scale exhibition in the UK of his work bringing together an outstanding collection of more than 100 pieces. It runs at the Barbican Art Gallery in London until 28 January 2018.

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