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Prophet or Prophecy....Jean Michel Basquiat?

I was very lucky to catch a BBC screened film, charting the life and work of Jean Michel Basquiat, who started Artistic life as the street Artist, with others, as 'Samo'. The very prolific main body of his Art as Basquiat had always shocked me, turning me off a little, while I still had to look...I viewed it as apocalyptic or even existential nihilism? It was actually a story of how one, brilliant young black Artist, saw the world in the 70's and 80's.

As always, the reality in any Art and Artist, of back story, message being conveyed in their Art, and its own prophetic meaning to the individual, once all is known, can perhaps be understood or interpreted, in as many ways as there are humans on the planet? Basquiat was clear about his message and once the work was done and out there he tragically died at 27. Quite apart from how he died, sadly, in a very 'modern' way, he would surely not be happy with how his work is sought or valued now, though this is the fame he sought from the outset.

I wondered after seeing the film, if there was yet another meaning and that now Basquiat's Art sells for £100m plus, was it metaphor for the world...it being all about the money. Or that we have forsaken all the people and the planet to chase it down, as that's all that matters now? Has the fact Covid has shown this thinking at odds with the planet, stopped the world in our tracks, means we got it wrong? Or that our politics have been manipulated and marginalised by social media or technically tampered with, meaning we have no voice or can't trust what's being said to us now?

If Jean Michel Basquiat were here with us now, he would surely be horrified by the lack of freedom to express your truth and enjoy civil liberty, as he did. The facets of his Art work are so far reaching, not only to the young black community he represented, but for all people. The message or prophecy, which ever you prefer....must surely be, that you don't have to die young, even if you make it big. That is a sad, and very tragic loss for all, and mostly for our future world...whatever that may be.


Colin Taylor

Director, Galleria Balmain