May 6, 2013
The Neo-Expressionists who had their origins in the New York art scene and hyped art market of the 1980s, were scavengers plundering from a variety of styles and sources including graffiti art, graphic design handbooks, magazines, and the literary and art historical canon.
An example is Jean-Michel Basquiat. He began as a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s and evolved into an acclaimed Neo-expressionist and Primitivist painter by the 1980s. He lived fast and died young.--Within a period of five years he went from being a high school drop-out living on the streets of New York, to an established painter whose work was in high demand. Shortly thereafter, he died of a drug overdose at the age of twenty-seven, ending his short, but prolific career.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, La Hara, 1981, Acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas
La Hara is Puerto Rican slang for ‘the police’. In this painting. Basquiat depicts the policeman with a disproportionately large chest, his figure filling most of the frame, and with red eyes, representing him as an overpowering, irrational force. However, his puffed chest is also hollow, and the figure lacks limbs, confining his mobility, an idea reinforced by his position behind a fence, painted in the lower left.
Basquiat's art is 'post-modern' in its rich welter of background cultural references or a a kind of consumerist montage picking up images and experiences from everywhere. More specifically much of his work examines the legacy of the colonial enterprise and his relationship to that legacy.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, In Italian, 1983. Acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas with wooden supports and five smaller canvases painted with ink marker
Basquiat was also known for scavenging his materials --eg., combining a diverse array of surfaces, like plywood, doors, and make-shift canvases constructed from irregular pieces of linen stapled to wooden shipping pallets. Many works incorporate text, and are drawn in a gestural, expressionistic fashion typical of street art.