A Deep Dive into Basquiat's Materials and Techniques

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Bird On The Money. A Neo-Expressionist painting of a bird surrounded by graffiti style sketches and characters.Image © Jean-Michel Basquiat / Bird On The Money © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981
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Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the most celebrated and iconic artists of the 20th century, known for his unique blend of graffiti, street art, and neo-expressionism. Spanning less than a decade, his short but prolific career produced some of the most groundbreaking works of art of his generation. Basquiat's work is characterised by its raw power, emotional depth, and political commentary, reflecting his experiences as a black man growing up in a world that often ignored or rejected his voice. However, one aspect of Basquiat's art that often goes overlooked is his innovative use of materials and techniques. Employing a range of materials in his work, from found objects to traditional painting materials, Basquiat's art is testament to his creativity and resourcefulness and exemplifies how he created some of the most iconic artworks of his generation.

The Power of Basquiat's Materials: A Look into his Artistic Process

Basquiat's choice of materials played a significant role in his artistic process and the evolution of his style. From his early days as a street artist to his rise as an art world sensation, Basquiat experimented with a range of materials, including spray paint, acrylic, oil stick, and everyday objects. He even painted on unconventional surfaces like doors, boxes, and pieces of wood.

Basquiat's use of materials was more than just a matter of preference. By incorporating everyday objects into his work, layers of meaning were being added to his art pieces. From old books to discarded doors, these unorthodox materials allowed him to create a textured, expressive style that emphasised the rawness of his subject matter. The artists' use of bright colours, bold lines, and thick textures allowed him to powerfully convey the energy and emotion of his subjects.

Charles The First is one of many examples, with Basquiat using a mix of materials, including acrylic, oil stick, and spray paint, to create a dynamic, layered work that captures the intensity of his subject. The use of vibrant colours and thick brushstrokes emphasise the power and authority of the figure, whilst the inclusion of found objects, like the cardboard box in the upper left corner, adds a layer of social commentary to the piece.

“Basquiat had a genius for suggesting the vitality and costliness of urban life in a single painting”
Robert Hughes, Art Critic

The Dynamic Techniques of Basquiat

Visually captivating and emotive, Basquiat's art is recognised for its unique and dynamic techniques - one of the most notable being the range of media used to create striking contrasts within a single piece. Another technique he used often held a focus on the range of marks and gestures. From simple lines and dots to bold, sweeping strokes, his mark-making creates evidence of expression within his art.

These techniques allowed Basquiat to create works that were layered with meaning and emotion, with a raw and intense energy that drew viewers in. His use of text, symbols, and iconography was also significant, as he often included phrases and references to cultural figures and events that commented on contemporary society.

Basquiat's techniques and unique style were influential in the art world, inspiring a new generation of artists to experiment with new materials and modes of expression. His use of unconventional materials and his embrace of imperfections and chance elements has also been cited as an influence on the contemporary art scene.

One of the most famous examples of Basquiat's techniques is his work Untitled (Head), which was completed in 1982 and features a skull rendered in bold, gestural strokes and layered with text and symbols. The piece is a powerful example of his ability to combine different materials and techniques to create a work that is both visually striking and thematically rich.

Decoding Basquiat's Bold and Innovative Artistic Style

Basquiat was an iconoclastic artist who pioneered a new style of art that blended graffiti, street culture, and neo-expressionism. His style was heavily influenced by his surroundings, as he grew up in the gritty and vibrant atmosphere of New York City.

One of the most unique elements of Basquiat's style was his use of textual elements. He frequently included words and phrases, sometimes in a haphazard or seemingly random manner, to convey messages and themes. His use of symbols and imagery also added a distinctive dimension to his works. Basquiat often incorporated elements of African art and mythology, which gave his works a primal, otherworldly quality.

Basquiat's style evolved over the years, as he gained more recognition and honed his craft. In his earlier works, he tended to rely more on text and simple imagery, but as he progressed, his style became more complex and nuanced. He began to experiment with different mediums, including oil paint, acrylic, and mixed media, and his use of colour became more sophisticated.

Overall, Basquiat's art style was a radical departure from the norms of the art world, and his unique approach to art-making has influenced generations of artists that have followed in his footsteps. As he himself once said, “I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life.”

Basquiat's Creativity: The Roots and Sources of His Inspiration

Basquiat's artistic genius was fuelled by a rich mix of cultural influences. From his Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage to the vibrant music and art scenes of downtown New York City, his eclectic background and diverse interests are reflected in his art.

African art and jazz music had a significant impact on Basquiat's work, particularly his use of bold, graphic lines and vibrant colours. His love of jazz, which he often listened to while painting, inspired him to experiment with improvisation and spontaneity in his art.

Basquiat was also deeply influenced by the African diaspora, drawing inspiration from African masks, textiles, and symbols. The incorporation of these motifs into his work helped to challenge traditional art world hierarchies and highlight the contributions of marginalised cultures.

His sources of inspiration influenced his style and themes, resulting in a body of work that tackled issues of race, power, and social justice. Charles The First is a powerful critique of the commodification of black bodies in Western art. Through his work, Basquiat broke down barriers and expanded the definition of what art could be. His legacy continues to inspire artists today, a testament to the enduring power of his creativity.

Graffiti style head on a blue painted backgroundImage / Sotheby's © Untitled © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982

Unpacking the Layers of Basquiat's Untitled (1982)

Basquiat's Untitled (1982) is one of the most iconic pieces of art from the neo-expressionist movement. The painting features a powerful image of a skull, with Basquiat's signature graffiti-style handwriting overlaid on top of a textured canvas.

Basquiat used a variety of materials and techniques to create this painting. He used acrylic, oil stick, and spray paint to create the vibrant colours, bold lines, and scribbled words. The canvas itself has a unique texture, with layers of paint and scribbles creating a sense of depth and complexity.

The skull is a recurring motif in Basquiat's work, representing mortality, violence, and the African diaspora. The handwritten words and symbols add layers of meaning to the painting, with references to art history, popular culture, and Basquiat's personal experiences.

Untitled (1982) is a masterpiece that showcases Basquiat's unique artistic vision and technical skill. Realising a price of $110,487,500 at Sotheby's New York in 2017, the painting has become a cultural icon and has inspired a new generation of artists and art lovers. Basquiat, who was 21-years-old when he painted Untitled, is the youngest artist to eclipse the $100 million mark. It is also the first work made after 1980 to sell for more than $100 million, surpassing Andy Warhol's $105 million auction record for Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), and becoming the sixth-most expensive work ever auctioned.

In deconstructing Basquiat's vision, it is evident that he had a profound impact on the art world, breaking down barriers and creating a new artistic language that transcended traditional boundaries. As Basquiat once said, “I am not a black artist, I am an artist.”

Basquiat's Enduring Influence

Basquiat's brief but impactful career had a profound effect on the art world, propelling him to become one of the most celebrated artists of the 1980s. Basquiat's influence on contemporary art and culture cannot be overstated, as by giving a voice to issues of race, class, and power he undoubtedly became an icon of the downtown New York street art art scene.

Basquiat's unique materials and techniques continue to inspire artists today. Using found objects and everyday items in his paintings, such as doors, windows, and clothing, created textured surfaces that added depth and meaning to his work. His use of symbols and text also added to the complexity and layered meanings in his paintings.

“Basquiat's influence on contemporary art is profound, and his legacy endures. His paintings are a testament to the power of art to inspire, provoke, and challenge our perceptions.”
Fred Hoffman

Basquiat's impact can be seen in the work of artists such as KAWS, Banksy, and Shepard Fairey, who continue to push the boundaries of art and culture in new and exciting ways. Basquiat's legacy lives on, inspiring artists and collectors alike to continue to explore new materials and techniques and challenge the status quo.

If you’re looking to buy a Basquiat print, our buyer’s guide to Jean-Michel Basquiat is the perfect place to start your search.

Exploring Basquiat's materials and techniques provides a deeper understanding of the artist's unique style and the impact he has had on the art world. Through the use of unconventional materials and techniques such as found objects and graffiti-inspired marks, Basquiat created a raw and powerful aesthetic that challenged traditional notions of fine art. By examining his creative and physical processes we are able to appreciate the depth and complexity of his work.

Basquiat's ability to merge different materials and techniques reflects his diverse background and personal experiences, and this is what makes his art so powerful and relevant today. He has influenced generations of artists and continues to inspire and captivate audiences around the world.

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