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Basquiat and Friends

Man looking at Basquiat painting
7 Jan 2018
2 min read

Basquiat was a regular on New York’s downtown club scene. The faces he met often played a prominent role on his canvas - we explore some of the famous faces featured in the Basquiat: Boom for Real exhibition. 

More than just being a place to go to dance – which they certainly were – the clubs Basquiat frequented would also host exhibitions, screen films, premiere new records from DJs, stage fashion shows and invite artists to create murals.

Basquiat found himself at the heart of New York’s creative community counting legendary Downtown characters such as Debbie Harry, Keith Haring, Grace Jones, Andy Warhol and Madonna as his friends. 

Several works in the exhibition emphasise the importance of these friendships for Basquiat.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dos Cabezas, 1982

Dos Cabezas, which translates from Spanish as ‘two heads’, is a historic portrait of Basquiat and Warhol. Like many New York artists of his generation, Basquiat held the so-called ‘King of Pop’ in high esteem. On 4 October 1982, Bruno Bischofberger took Basquiat to Warhol’s studio to have his portrait taken on his large-format Polaroid camera. Instead of staying for lunch, Basquiat dashed back to his Crosby Street studio to paint this work which his studio assistant delivered back to Warhol - before the paint was even dry. Warhol recorded in his diary his admiration for Basquiat’s speed, which for him was the ultimate accolade.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sketch of Keith Haring, 1983

Fellow downtown artist, Keith Haring, is presented here from the front and the side, perhaps inspired by medical texts such as Basquiat’s favourite, Gray’s Anatomy. Sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with one of his ‘Radiant Babies’, Haring is presented with admiration and humour.

By incorporating the word ‘FAMOUS’ inside an angelic halo above Haring’s head, Basquiat establishes his status. He also includes ‘KEITH HARING IN MILAN OCT .83’ to indicate when the work was made. At the time, Haring was working in Milan with his friend LA2 (Angel Ortiz) to decorate the flagship store of fashion designer Elio Fiorucci. The project was broadcast on television and attended by a group of downtown artists, including Basquiat and Warhol, who travelled especially to support Haring.

Basquiat: Boom For Real took place from 21 September–28 January 2018

Photo: © Tristan Fewings & Marcus J Leith

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