I know that I'm, what, thirteen years behind on this one. But, well. It kind of started when I moved to New York in 2006. There were ads in the subway about a Basquiat exhibit that was only around for about 4 more days. I was very taken by the imagery, and later read rave reviews all over the Internet and in local magazines.
Over the next two years, I periodically found myself thinking about him here and there, making notes to myself to find out more. I read some stuff, talked to some people, and here is something I still don't get: why I never learned about him before. I took Art History AP in high school, which covered everything from the Venus of Willendorf all the way to Christo, Duane Hansen and Chuck Close. Basquiat never appeared in my eight-pound book. I was one or two classes away from an Art History minor in college, and more of the same. No Basquiat.
It's really, really strange to me. He had the type of story, acquaintances, friends, problems, fame, and death that I can't imagine ever being left out of a 1200-page history book. Better late than never, though. I hadn't been that inspired and excited about art in a movie since I saw How to Draw a Bunny.
I kind of loved all of the cameos, too. There were so many. Benicio del Toro, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walken (who was so wonderfully awkward), Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Courtney Love, I even saw Vincent Gallo for a split second at a dinner table. And who could forget this one:
I don't really know what else to say about this that will explain why I keep thinking about it (both him and the movie). Something about the way he absentmindedly poured syrup all over a tabletop just so he could sketch into it; the way he painted all over his girlfriend's dress while she was sleeping; the way he slapped white on stacks of tires. It's the kind of thing that could sound eye-roll-ish and make people balk at what the big deal is. I'm not sure either; maybe it's because I've had similar compulsions.
It's frustrating to not be able to articulate why I love the story so much. It's also frustrating to not understand why it's not more widely told, since it seems so huge now that I know a little bit about it. Is it like street smarts, which you only learn by living in the world and participating in culture first-hand, and getting away from a text book?
In any case, I know I'm light years behind on this artist, but Jean Michel Basquiat has been simultaneously my biggest oversight and my favorite discovery of the year.