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Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat

 (20th century)
Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat was active/lived in New York.  Andy Warhol JeanMichel Basquiat is known for collaborative painting.

Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat

Biography from the Archives of askART

Collaborative painting between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat came to the attention of art buyers in the fall of 1984, when international art dealer, Bruno Bischofberger exhibited fifteen of a series of three-way paintings in his gallery in Zurich, Switzerland.  This first series included painting by Francesco Clemente, and resulted from Bischofberger's idea that collaboration could be added with fiscal advantage to the many pioneering techniques of 'leading edge' artists.  The dealer made an agreement with the three artists that together each would do twelve alike paintings and three drawings.  Then without discussion with the others, each would begin four paintings, which would then be passed around, with each making additions and/or completions.

However, without telling Bischofberger, Warhol and Basquiat hatched their own collaborative plan, which they activated after finishing the three-artist pieces.  They did large-scale paintings that "combined Warhol's love of logos with Basquiat's facile catalogue of images---skulls, jazzmen, lists of words." (217) Titles included GE, Arm and Hammer II, Pontiac, Don't Tread on Me and Stoves, a canvas where Basquiat scribbled all over Warhol's images of kitchen appliances.  Of these pieces, it was written that "their two styles coexist on canvas, but they never manage to merge into a coherent image." (217) For Basquiat, these canvases were graffiti expressions typical of what he was known for.  But for Warhol, it was a reviving of painting, something he had abandoned for about twenty years for commercial art techniques such as silkscreen and image duplication processes.

Warhol and Basquiat hid these collaborative pieces, which became an ongoing project in The Factory, which was Warhol's studio shared by Basquiat, and did not tell Bischofberger until the spring of 1985 when the dealer was making one of his monthly visits to New York City.  Bischofberger said that Warhol seemed a bit embarrassed when he told him of the covert activity, but Bischofberger quickly turned it to personal advantage by suggesting that he represent their collaborative work.  He arranged for exhibition and storage space in a warehouse on Long Island.

Basquiat and Warhol continued working together from 1984 through 1985, but it was a difficult period for Warhol who was known for his strict work ethic.  Because Basquiat, by contrast, was seemingly devoid of routine and did his painting on impulse, the men seldom actually painted together at the same time.  Often Warhol would work on a canvas and then sometime later, Basquiat would put his hand to it. Reflecting the tensions between them are entries Warhol made in his diaries about his collaborator's lack of productivity.  Mentioned are Basquiat's heroin habit, mood swings and long periods of just falling asleep on the floor.  An entry of October 7, 1984 reads:  "But I woke him up and he did two masterpieces that were great . . . Jean Michel is difficult, you never know what kind of mood he'll be in, what he'll be on."   Because of Basquiat's unpredictability and 'sudden' accomplishments of totally painted canvases, an assistant would be on hand to blow dry the paintings.

Basquiat, who "clearly reveled on working with his idol", seemed fine with the collaboration arrangement.  He told an interviewer that Warhol would start most of the paintings, putting down something concrete or recognizable and "then I would sort of deface it and then would try to get him to work some more on it.  And then I would work more on it.  I would try to get him to do at least two things, you know.  He would like to do one hit and then have me do all the work after that.  I could paint over his stuff all the time.  . . . And he's really funny.  He tells lots of funny jokes." (220)

In spite of the many complications in their relationship, they seemed to be very close friends.  Basquiat idolized Warhol and wanted to be like him for his fame and acceptance in the art world.  In the late 1970s, he had begun approaching Warhol in public settings with offers of his designed t-shirts and sweatshirts and painting examples---just to get attention and sanction from the 'King of Pop".  One of their earliest encounters where Warhol paid him some notice was in the spring of 1978, when Warhol was lunching at the WPA restaurant on Price Street, a popular Soho bar.  Basquiat was hawking his miniature, post-card size paintings on the street, and walked into the restaurant to the table of Warhol who paid him a dollar for the artwork.

Then with Basquiat's increasing prominence, Warhol gradually paid him more attention.  By 1981, Basquiat was visiting by invitation Warhol's Factory studio, where he sold Warhol a sweatshirt.  But on the first visit, put off by "the raunchy-looking artist, with his messy hair, and even messier joints" (206), Warhol had told his doorman to "get rid" of Basquiat.  In 1983, Basquiat's girlfriend, Paige Powell, who also was a close friend of Warhol's brought the two artists together, and they spent many nights as a 'threesome' out on the town.  Eventually Warhol and Basquiat bonded and closed Powell out of their circle.  The two men, each in different stages of their lives, spent much time together and developed a special bond of nurturing and encouraging each other.  Basquiat had successfully encouraged Warhol to become a painter again, and Warhol, playing a paternal role, had given Basquiat much needed confidence.  Although Warhol was homosexual, his relationship with Basquiat was not overtly sexual, especially since Basquiat was very much attracted to women.

The Warhol/Basquiat relationship began in a period when Warhol's star was fading somewhat and Basquiat's was rising.  Their collaborative paintings were physical proof of the harmony that had existed between them for a short time.  However that symbiotic relationship ended in September 1985 because of the Warhol/Basquiat exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York.  In publicity, the artists were described as two "world class stars. . . the hot couple of the moment.  . . .the most famous white and most famous black artist." (263) The poster for the show was a photograph of them in a boxing match motif with each wearing boxer trunks and gloves, symbolizing persons both together and adversarial.

However, the poster proved only too symbolic relative to divisiveness as it "documented the end of the relationship." (204) The exhibition was panned by critics with the question posed of 'who was using whom'?  There were suggestions that Basquiat as a protégé had sold out to align himself with Warhol to become an "art-world mascot"; (265) and that the whole thing was one of Warhol's manipulations, which if unchallenged, was indicative of a less-than-intelligent public.  One reviewer, referring to the poster wrote: "Warhol TKO in 16 rounds." (265)

Overwhelmed by accusations that he was simply a tool of Warhol, Basquiat simply walked away from the intense, day-to-day relationship.  From the time the critical reviews appeared, until Warhol's death in 1987, they saw each other casually, but only every couple of months.  The Shafrazi Gallery Exhibition marked the end, not only of their friendship, but of their painting collaboration.

Phoebe Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art

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