|Zephania with Anina Nosei, (Basquiat's Untitled, 1981); courtesy BBC 4|
"Decoding Basquiat" - BBC Radio 4 - 11.30am Tuesday 30th November 50 years after the birth of one of America’s most enigmatic visual artists, Benjamin Zephaniah visits New York to read between the lines of Jean Michel Basquiat’s graffiti-inspired paintings.
When he died at the age of 27 Basquiat had been painting for less than a decade, but had achieved a unique feat: rising from graffiti writer to international art star. Basquiat’s prodigious talents and “cool status” made him a hero of the converging disco, hiphop and no-wave music scenes. By 1983 Basquiat had given up graffiti and was one of the most sought-after art commodities on the planet, surrounded by a string of sometimes contradictory mythologies: bohemian, ladies’ man, genius, drug addict, poet, inarticulate.
Text was a constant in Basquiat’s work. From his street poetry, to his vast canvasses filled with lists from various sources: medical terminologies, Greek mythology and jazz LP liner notes. Benjamin will attempt to interpret his texts and symbols, to get beyond Basquiat’s artist as rockstar mythology. Can we draw conclusions about Basquiat's inner world from the words he used?
Contributors include gallerist Annina Nosei who gave Basquiat his first solo show, Art historian Richard Marshall, art writer Michael Holman, music journalist Greg Tate, composer Lisle Ellis, Chika Okeke-Agulu from Princeton University and Basquiat’s long term girlfriend Suzanne Malouk. “SAMO as an end to mindwash religion, nowhere politics and bogus philosophy” - Basquiat street tag, 1979 December 22nd 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Basquiat’s birth.