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The chaotic brilliance of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat - Jordana Moore Saggese


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Like Beat writers who composed their work by shredding and reassembling scraps of writing, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat used similar techniques to remix his materials. Pulling in splintered anatomy, reimagined historical scenes and skulls, he repurposed present day experiences and art history into an inventive visual language. Jordana Moore Saggese explores the chaotic and prolific art of Basquiat.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat was invested in many creative arenas outside of painting. He collaborated with a high school friend, Al Diaz, under the pseudonym SAMO; you can see documentary images of these early SAMO writings here. Basquiat also formed a noise band with the artist Michael Holman in the late 1970s named Gray (likely after the Gray’s Anatomy book that his mother gave him as a child). Holman wrote a history of the band and recently produced an album with former band member Shannon Dawson called Shades of Gray

If you would like to know more about Basquiat’s painting in the larger context of American art, see the online essay on the 1985 painting Horn Players by art historian Jordana Moore Saggese and his entry on The Art Story. More advanced readers might consider Dr. Saggese’s 2014 book Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art.

The New York Times published an article about the record-breaking auction of Basquiat’s painting, which sold to the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa for $110.5 million in 2017. This was the highest price ever paid for a work by any American artist, for a work by an African-American artist. This painting was also the first work created since 1980 to make over $100 million at auction.

A richly-illustrated book (for grades K-5) on the life Jean-Michel Basquiat, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, was awarded the Randolph Caldecott Medal in 2017 middle and high school students would enjoy the biographies by Leonard Emmerling and Eric Fretz. Older readers may like the recently updated biography by Phoebe Hoban, which details the artist’s life as well as provides a vivid picture of the downtown scene of 1980s New York.

Films that take Jean-Michel Basquiat as their subject, include the scripted drama Basquiat (1996) and the documentaries Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010) and Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (2017). Basquiat also plays the main character in the film Downtown 81 –made by Glenn O’Brien in 1980-81 and released in 2000.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Jordana Moore Saggese
  • Director Héloïse Dorsan Rachet
  • Narrator Christina Greer
  • Storyboard Artist Héloïse Dorsan Rachet
  • Layout Artist Héloïse Dorsan Rachet
  • Character Designer Héloïse Dorsan Rachet
  • Art Director Héloïse Dorsan Rachet
  • Animator Héloïse Dorsan Rachet
  • Illustrator Héloïse Dorsan Rachet
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Joseph Isaac

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