Jean-Michel Basquiat was a figure who seems to overshadow his own art. An artists success is largely determined by who they know or who knows them. Basquiat was able to ride his wave of popularity and social success into a booming career. Some art critics question if he added anything truly new to the history of art. His contribution to art history is one that leads to the future of art and artists. Like Keith Haring Basquiat gained popularity for graffiti. Basquiat gained fame and recognition for graffiti before he ever painted on canvas. His painting on canvas was a result from his popularity for graffiti.
Street art is not permanent. Artists often consider the life of their work. Painters will seek materials and techniques that will stand the test of time. Tagging is temporary. It is said to be a popularity game. The idea is said tot be that your name is seen and you are known. The rise of street art and artists from this scene really boomed in the 90’s and early 21st century. Two artists who gained popularity or really the ones who accomplished this first were Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. You can see their importance in that they were early pioneers in the modern relevant medium.
Who is SAMO? Witty quotes began to show up on walls signed SAMO. They soon gained popularity in the thriving art community of New York in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Basquiat was one person who was behind the SAMO tag. The SAMO (pronounced Same-Oh) tag started more as an inside joke “Same Old Shit’. SAMO was not only Basquiat, but he seems to be the one who is most remembered from this. Al Diaz was there from the start the other SAMO. Really SAMO was a rise of an image, not an image on a canvas but an image of SAMO the image of Basquiat in culture.
We can now tie in the idea of street art as fleeting and the image of the artist. Street art is elusive. So the desire from the art world is to own a piece of this elusive art. Basquiat was given the opportunity to put his brush to canvas after his rise to popularity in the art community. Art critics are seeking a hot story, a career to latch on to. Art buyers are investing, trying to buy what they are going to resell at a higher price. The beauty of art is that an artists art will always be scarce. You may be able to create endless prints of Rembrandt but the amount of original Rembrandt paintings will always be limited and scarce. The real money is not in being the artist but in being the one who buys and sells the art. Street art is even more scarce and fleeting.
The art culture of the late 70’s and early 80’s of New York was a unique period of art history. Gone were the days of importing communist art like Diego Rivera here was the world where youth, corporate advertising, young ambition and creativity all met at the alter of fame and glamor. Punk Rock happened. Hip hop was rising. The revolutionary thoughts of the 60’s were remembered but liberalism was now hip and devoured by capitalism. Gay culture was emerging from the closet the ball scene was coming to light and where we were finding liberation culturally it was being consumed by the global market. Exploitation of artists and creatives was embraced by those who made the real money off of it and the artists who were sucking on the tit of the capitalist cow. You can see positives and negatives in this world.
Andy Warhol is a symbol of this decade. Although most of his career occurred in the decades leading up to the 80’s he lived to see this final decade where his art was not as cutting edge. He lived to see his career embodied in the culture around. It is not a shock that so much of the 80’s were so defined by the vibrant colors. Is it any wonder that the clean crisp image of pop art that so invasively intruded on the decade would bring about the rough impromptu of street art? Any other decade would have shunned this. There is far too much to love and despise about the art world of the time.
Basquiat was a product like any other. Madonna, Deborah Harry and Keith Harring emerging from this world were all products as artists who emerged from this time. In Basquiat’s last encounter with Al Diaz, he gave him a painting To SAMO From Samo it said. Al Diaz turned around and sold it. The friendship was more than this painting, yet it was a strong symbol of this painting. It was one Al Diaz regretfully turned around and sold. The money present at the time seemed to engulf any meaning behind the art. This truly human connection of love and admiration from one friend to another was still something to be bought and sold. Don’t shame Diaz for this, his reasons are almost irrelevant. He was one artist in a sea of capitalism. What he did was almost nothing compared to what the art world does every day. If the words “To SAMO From SAMO” were written on any of his other paintings it may be overlooked, almost meaningless in comparison. It was the desire of the buyer to own that piece of their shared life their history and the meaning behind their relationship that made this piece one to remember. This makes the sale of this one piece of art important arguably more so than any other sale of a Basquiat. It shows the readiness to consume and own the lives of others. Anything is fair game in capitalism. Anything can be exploited in capitalism.
I want to live a life of meaning but instead I work 9 to 5. I want to feed my family but instead I am an underemployed wage slave.