Take a Close Look at Basquiat’s Revolutionary Art in a New 500-Page, 14-Pound, Large Format Book by Taschen

At many a book­store and art gallery gift shop, you will find copies of writer and artist Java­ka Steptoe’s Radi­ant Child, a young person’s intro­duc­tion to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The book has deserved­ly won a Calde­cott Medal and the praise of adult read­ers who find as much or more to admire in it as their kids do. A sur­pris­ing­ly mov­ing short biog­ra­phy, it hits many of the major notes in Basquiat’s for­ma­tive years: His Brook­lyn child­hood and Hait­ian and Puer­to Rican her­itage; his love for his encour­ag­ing moth­er and heart­break at her insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion in a men­tal hos­pi­tal; his child­hood spent in New York art gal­leries plan­ning to be a famous artist, and his keen inter­est in anato­my text­books, jazz, and black his­to­ry….

But for a seri­ous­ly deep immer­sion in the artist’s his­to­ry and devel­op­ment, you will want to con­sult a new 500-page book from TASCHEN, Jean-Michel Basquiat XXL. Writ­ten by cura­tor Eleanor Nairne and edit­ed by Hans Wern­er Holzwarth, the “over­sized hard­cov­er,” notes This is Colos­sal,” is filled with large-scale repro­duc­tions of the artist’s draw­ings, paint­ings, and note­book pages. Sev­er­al essays guide the read­er year-by-year through Basquiat’s artis­tic career, from 1978 to his untime­ly death in 1988.”

The ten years the book cov­ers pro­vide enough mate­r­i­al for two or three vol­umes, and also hap­pen to tell the sto­ry of a cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion in which Basquiat was at the cen­ter, as TASCHEN writes:

The leg­end of Jean-Michel Basquiat is as strong as ever. Syn­ony­mous with New York in the 1980s, the artist first appeared in the late 1970s under the tag SAMO, spray­ing caus­tic com­ments and frag­ment­ed poems on the walls of the city. He appeared as part of a thriv­ing under­ground scene of visu­al arts and graf­fi­ti, hip hop, post-punk, and DIY film­mak­ing, which met in a boom­ing art world. As a painter with a strong per­son­al voice, Basquiat soon broke into the estab­lished milieu, exhibit­ing in gal­leries around the world.

Basquiat is now rec­og­nized—art schol­ar and cura­tor Dieter Buch­hart argues—as an artist who “eter­nal­ized… the exhil­a­rat­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for art, music, and social cri­tique in New York.” But for all the high praise he has gar­nered after his trag­ic over­dose at 27, in life his work was often “’explained away’ by his Afro-Hait­ian and Puer­to Rican her­itage,” writes Kris­ten Foland at Swamp. “Some art his­to­ri­ans and crit­ics, includ­ing Sharon F. Pat­ton, cat­e­go­rized his work as ‘prim­i­tive’ and called him a ‘black graf­fi­ti artist,’ a term he found inher­ent­ly racist.”

Basquiat recoiled at the idea of being seg­re­gat­ed and sin­gled out as a “black artist”; but he proud­ly cel­e­brat­ed black life and cul­tur­al forms in nar­ra­tive works rich with sym­bol­ism and poet­ry, mourn­ing and tri­umph. Asked about his sub­ject mat­ter, he once replied, “roy­al­ty, hero­ism and the streets.” Grand themes and set­tings were what he had in mind, and Nairne fit­ting­ly titles her essay in the TASCHEN book, “The Art of Sto­ry­telling.”

Per­haps the rea­son Basquiat’s life makes such a good sto­ry, for kids and grownups alike, is that he him­self was such a pow­er­ful sto­ry­teller. He weaved his per­son­al his­to­ry seam­less­ly into the social and polit­i­cal fab­ric that enmeshed him in the leg­endary late-sev­en­ties/ear­ly-eight­ies down­town New York scene. The new large for­mat TASCHEN book lets you get a close-up look at the fine details of his rev­o­lu­tion­ary can­vas­es, draw­ings, col­lages, wood pan­el paint­ings, and street poet­ry and paint­ing.

You can pur­chase the book through Ama­zon.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Odd Cou­ple: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, 1986

130,000 Pho­tographs by Andy Warhol Are Now Avail­able Online, Cour­tesy of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty

Down­load 50,000 Art Books & Cat­a­logs from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art’s Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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