The legacy of late American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who rewrote underground art culture in the 1980s with words, images and collages, remains as strong and inspiring as ever today.
The boundary-breaking Basquiat, a self-taught painter from Brooklyn, would have turned 60 this Dec 22.
He died of an accidental drug overdose in 1988 aged 27. But his paintings remain a big fixture in popular culture, influencing art, music, fashion and more.
New York indie band The Strokes used his artwork for the cover of its new album The New Abnormal while shoe brand Dr Martens issued a Basquiat series. These recent tributes to this neo-expressionist artist have been steadily building up worldwide.
In Kuala Lumpur, Artemis Art gallery has put together a regional group show titled Conversation With Basquiat, which features 33 works by 15 artists from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
This gallery-based exhibition, which ends Sept 12, is a collaboration with Julia Gallery (Taipei) and Vinyl on Vinyl Gallery (Manila).
“Basquiat's work is very raw and it’s difficult to box him up in a genre. He had that ‘I do my own thing’ kind of attitude, which inspires people. But I don’t think that necessarily made him a rebel, ” says Penang-based artist Bibichun, who himself is a free-spirited individual.
Bibichun contributes a wood assemblage to this exhibition. Titled Selfportrait, the work is a free-standing interpretation of Basquiat's 1982 Untitled artwork. In the process of doing research for this exhibition, Bibichun observed that Basquiat seldom did any sculptural work, hence the form that this artwork eventually took.
TitikMerah Collective co-founder Ajim Juxta admires how a young artist like Basquiat challenged the norm then.
"His work continues to defy categorisation today. Looking at his paintings, you can say that he was someone who truly enjoyed making art on his own terms, ” says Ajim.
Ajim remembers visiting a major Basquiat exhibit at the Barbican Art Gallery in London in 2017 called Basquiat: Boom For Real.
“I was inspired by his randomness (on canvas)... the chaos of art-making. People might see his works as 'all over the place', but to me, there are elements that tie things back together, ” says Ajim, who also dabbles in music and writing.
For S. Jamal Al-Idrus, Artemis Art owner, Basquiat’s artistic career may have only spanned a decade, but in that period he shifted art scene boundaries, allowing a rethink of how to present graffiti, paintings, drawings, and more.
“Different artists are inspired by different aspects of Basquiat’s practice. Some with the iconography (the Crown, in particular), some with the unbridled energy in his works, or even the fact that he was very much a thinking artist, ” says Jamal.
“The social criticism expressed in Basquiat’s art – racism, power structures, societal inequality, to name a few – are issues still very relevant now, as they were in the 1980s, ” he adds.
The other participating artists in this exhibition are Dedy Sufriadi, Oky Antonius, Rangga A. Putra, Rizal Hasan and Suanjaya Kencut from Indonesia, Haris Rashid, Rekha Menon, and Syahbandi Samat from Malaysia, Angelo Magno, Dennis Bato, Jaime Pacena II and Ronald Caringal from the Philippines and Chang Chiung-Fang from Taiwan.
Conversation With Basquiat is a two-part collaboration exhibition by Artemis Art. The second part of this project will take place at the end of the year, and will be on a larger scale involving collaborations with galleries from around the region.
Conversation With Basquiat is on at Artemis Art, Level G4, Block C5, Publika, Solaris Dutamas in KL till Sept 12. Open: Tuesday-Saturday (11am to 7pm). Sundays, Monday and public holidays by appointment.