Basquiat-isms: Ten of Jean-Michel’s Best Quotes

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Lee Jaffe Jean-Michel Basquiat Basquiat-isms
Photography by Lee Jaffe

A new book, Basquiat-isms, charts another side of the Radiant Child: his words. Here, we pick ten of the artist’s best quotes from the publication

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s rise in the art world of 1980s New York was meteoric, and he was at the height of his renown when he died in 1988 at the age of 27. Basquiat was an enigmatic outsider among established galleries and artists in the city; having grown up in Brooklyn, he never attended art school and was a graffiti artist under the moniker SAMO in the years before his paintings garnered acclaim. A new book, Basquiat-isms looks at another side of the acclaimed artist: his words, with quotations compiled from interviews and his own writing. 

Gallerists like Larry Gagosian and fellow artists like Andy Warhol championed Basquiat during his fleeting career, and his striking paintings allowed him to forge a unique path among his contemporaries in New York and in Europe. Music was another key interest for the artist: he was a founding member of noise rock band Gray, whose other members included Vincent Gallo, Michael Holman and Shannon Dawson, and released a single, Beat Pop, with the rap artists Rammellzee and K-Rob in 1983. While he produced mammoth canvases, loud with shape and colour, Basquiat was famously reticent and somewhat uncomfortable in the spotlight. Basquiat-isms reveals some of the thinking behind his processes, and thoughts on the art world which he came to impact so powerfully. Alongside photographs of Basquiat painting and laughing by Lee Jaffe, read ten of his most astute, comtemplative and witty quotes from the new publication. 

  1. “I think there’s a lot of people that are neglected in art.”
  2. “Graffiti has a lot of rules in it as to what you can do and what you can’t do, and I think it’s hard to make art under those conditions.”
  3. “[Gray] was a noise band. I played a guitar with a file, and a synthesiser. I was inspired by John Cage at the time – music that isn’t really music. We were trying to be incomplete, abrasive, oddly beautiful.”
  4. “If you wanna talk about influence, man, then you’ve got to realise that influence is not influence. It’s simply someone’s idea going through my new mind.”
  5. “I like to have information rather than just have a brushstroke. Just to have these words to put in these feelings underneath.”
  6. “I enjoy that they think I’m a bad boy. I think it’s great.”
  7. “I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.”
  8. “I was trying to communicate an idea; I was trying to paint a very urban landscape. I was trying to make paintings different from the paintings that I saw a lot of at the time, which were mostly minimal, and they were highbrow and alienating, and I wanted to make very direct paintings that most people would feel the emotion behind when they saw them.”
  9. “I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.”
  10. “At that point, [an artist] was somebody who could draw, but my ideas have changed since then. Now I see an artist as something a lot broader than that.”

Basquiat-isms by Jean-Michel Basquiat, edited by Larry Warsh, is out now, published by Princeton University Press.