A comical resume written by Jean-Michel Basquiat for his first art show sold for $50,000 at Sotheby’s. Created when the artist was 20 (right before his star ascended) this CV was composed on the crucial cusp between his graffiti writing (Samo) and his neo-expressionist paintings that exploded on the downtown scene.
Interesting that Patricia Fields is his primary reference. Perhaps she took a liking to the t-shirts he’d been hand-painting for that downtown discount store, Canal Jeans? Glenn O’Brien is no surprise at #2, as he wrote the first big magazine article on Jean-Michel and Fab Five Freddy in High Times magazine.
“It’s all drugs,” said Duncan Hannah about Basquiat (photographed here smoking a joint by William Coupon). I didn’t know how to respond to that statement. Does it make a difference what sacraments or ceremonies an artist employs to aid his creation process? Jean-Michel was a wildly talented artist who arrived on the scene initially as a 2nd-wave graffiti artist, but quickly adapted to the changes taking place in the art scene, changes O’Brien certainly could have hipped him to. Minimalism had run into a dead end, and now the largely abstract artists of New York City were trying to negotiate a path back to imagery. Any imagery. Basquiat turned to his inner child and drew on TV cartoons as a primary source for some of those early drawings. Just the fact he executed these drawings by holding an oil stick like a 3-year-old showed his genius.
Basquiat did clean up momentarily for his final exhibition in 1988 and the paintings didn’t look much like his earlier work. The confidence was gone and the paintings seemed shrunken and under assault. He was obviously not in a great frame of mind and soon would seek solace in the comfort of hard drugs after that last show was savaged by the critics. This was following the debacle of his Andy Warhol collaborations, which were also savaged and initially failed to sell. Today, however, a great Basquiat painting is worth over $100 million, as one recently fetched $110.5 million. I knew Basquiat when you could get artwork from him for under $1,000 and nobody was buying. That was around the Times Square Show, shortly before Diego Cortez launched him in New York/New Wave one year later.
I do have some Basquiat materials I collected while researching my book Art After Midnight, which was the first bio on Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. One of my favorite pieces is this school newspaper story that he published with an illustration to accompany it. This is Basquiat’s first published anything and it’s also the origins of the Samo idea. I also have a copy of his first professional illustration in the Soho News, autographed in red marker with “Samo” as he had not yet morphed into his new identity as a neo-expressionist painter. Both these items were obtained from Al Diaz and were selected for the Boom For Real exhibition in London. Since then, I traded both back to Al. I also have an illuminating 30 minute interview that is briefly interrupted by Andy Warhol before he decides he has already revealed too much and ends the session. This tape has never been played anywhere, except once for Phoebe Hoban when she was working on Jean’s biography.
If you want a peek into the scene Basquiat actually was a part of, something written while it was all happening, then check out my book Art After Midnight, which contains more exclusive images like the first Samo story. You’ll find it on Amazon, iTunes and Smashwords.