A ret­ro­spec­tive of the New York artist’s work opens in Lon­don this month. Here’s why he’s still our art world style icon

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s fash­ion; Honda Civic Type R; Chris­tian Cooke; win­ter groom­ing; guide to Mus­cat; the best coats; amaz­ing turnta­bles; Jeremy Lang­mead; Hugh Jack­man’s tips; why we skip brunch; a new mood in ties; Bre­itling Avenger Hur­ri­cane Mil­i­tary; pin­stripes; Kit Har­ing­ton; Boss hand­made shoes; Rus­sell Nor­man’s fish pie; Bri­tish fizz; old school scents

Name an artist who doesn’t have great dress sense. You prob­a­bly can’t. David Hock­ney, for in­stance: no one can toe the ragged seam be­tween a pri­mary-hued knit­ted tie and a pas­tel rugby shirt with the dex­ter­ity of our na­tional colourist. Joseph Beuys was an­other one: the Fluxus artist pulled off the tricky field-jacket and fe­dora combo with Ger­manic aplomb. And few could team turned-up selvedge jeans, worker jacket and half-smoked cig­a­rette with the peb­bledashed panache of Jack­son Pol­lock. The artist to beat all oth­ers in the style stakes, how­ever, was Jean-Michel Basquiat.

First “dis­cov­ered” by Andy Warhol in a New York restau­rant in 1980, the dread­locked painter won the re­spect of the art world with his retina-sear­ing neo-ex­pres­sion­ist paint­ings, the hearts of his peers with an un­apolo­getic ap­proach to his work (he’s fa­mous for say­ing, “I don’t lis­ten to what art crit­ics say. I don’t know any­body who needs a critic to find out what art is”), and the eyes of the fash­ion world with his inim­itable per­sonal style.

Basquiat never re­ceived any for­mal artis­tic train­ing (he cut his teeth with the graf­fiti col­lec­tive SAMO) and the wil­ful naivety of his work was re­flected in his wardrobe. He’d wear the but­ton-down col­lars of his preppy Ox­ford shirts un­fas­tened and fin­ished with wonky, peanut knot ties. He’d paint, barefoot, in the over­sized suits he bought from high-end tai­lor­ing brands. Smart Ivy League blaz­ers would be thrown over scruffy gym T-shirts. He wore thread­bare great­coats that would

have drowned an­other man of his stature but some­how made him look like a rock star. Basquiat bed­ded Madonna, was mates with Keith Har­ing and could reg­u­larly be found drain­ing Cham­pagne cock­tails at Man­hat­tan hot spot Mr Chow. When he walked for Comme des Garçons in 1987, the two out­sized grey suits he was dressed in would have looked silly on any­one else, but on him they were el­e­gant.

Basquiat was a con­tra­dic­tion — part ur­bane so­phis­ti­cate, part wastrel-up­start. He was in­tim­i­dat­ingly cool, en­tirely stylish and, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor, jour­nal­ist and broad­caster Peter York, he knew ex­actly what he was do­ing.

“The look of Basquiat was ob­vi­ously good,” says York.

“He was a very so­phis­ti­cated per­son play­ing a so­phis­ti­cated game. Though he played the part of a guy from the Bronx, he was com­pletely mid­dle-class — his dad was an ac­coun­tant. Basquiat had a very so­phis­ti­cated un­der­stand­ing of how so­phis­ti­cated peo­ple see un­so­phis­ti­cated things, and that in­cluded him­self. Basquiat knew how to play an in­ter­viewer or a sit­u­a­tion.

“When down­town was down­town and up­town was up­town in New York, there was a very dif­fer­ent so­cial ge­og­ra­phy to the one that ex­ists now,” York says. “If you were a down­town artist like Basquiat, you’d do Tom Wolfe’s idea of the ‘Apache dance’ for the up­town peo­ple and say, ‘I spit on you cap­i­tal­ists and so­ci­ety peo­ple and your art gal­leries, I re­ject your val­ues.’ And then, in brack­ets, you’d be say­ing, ‘Take me.’

“You go on do­ing the Apache dance un­til you ab­so­lutely weren’t do­ing it any more and you’re go­ing to ev­ery gallery open­ing go­ing,” laughs York. “The way Basquiat acted, the way he dressed, the whole thing was very thought-through.”

John Dunn, the Emmy-nom­i­nated cos­tume de­signer who cre­ated the wardrobe for Ju­lian Schn­abel’s 1996 film Basquiat (which starred Jef­frey Wright in the ti­tle role and fea­tured an in­spired turn from David Bowie as his men­tor Andy Warhol), de­scribes the late artist’s style as: “Retro meets hip-hop, meets preppy, meets di­vine in­spi­ra­tion.

“[Basquiat had] a de­cep­tively child­like fas­ci­na­tion with pat­tern and colour, worn with to­tal con­fi­dence and cool,” Dunn says. “I think Basquiat was trans­fixed by fash­ion and used it con­stantly to de­fine and ex­pand his vi­sion.

It was a whole other medium for him and he could be his own can­vas.”

Basquiat died aged 27 in 1988 from a heroin over­dose. Since then, his art has com­manded in­creas­ingly enor­mous sums. In May this year, Basquiat’s “Un­ti­tled” 1982 paint­ing of a skull sold for $110.5m (£85m) to a Ja­panese e-com­merce bil­lion­aire, mak­ing it the sixth-most ex­pen­sive paint­ing ever sold at auc­tion — oth­ers in the

all-time top 10 in­clude Modigliani’s “Nu Couché” for $170.4m (£113) and Ed­vard Munch’s “The Scream” for $120m (£74m) — not bad for the un­trained son of a subur­ban ac­coun­tant.

Open­ing at the Bar­bican Gallery on 21 Septem­ber, Basquiat: Boom for Real fea­tures more than 100 of the artist’s raw, en­er­getic paint­ings, in­clud­ing the cobalt-soaked “King Zulu”, the Cal­i­for­nia sun­shine-drenched “Hol­ly­wood Africans” and a re­con­struc­tion of Basquiat’s first body of ex­hib­ited work from the 1981 wa­ter­shed group show New York/

New Wave. Sell the scruffy gym T-shirt on your back for a ticket.

Pop art por­trait: Jean-Michel Basquiat, pho­tographed by Andy Warhol, New York, 1982

Pale blue cot­ton shirt, £80, by Gant

Grey wool jacket, £285, by Gant

Blue/red plaid silk tie, £75, by Gant

Paint­ing the town: Basquiat at an arts ben­e­fit at Area night­club,

New York, 1984

Grey/yel­low wool-cash­mere sweater,

£1,130, by Brunello Cucinelli

Navy jacquard wool-cash­mere cardi­gan, £595, by Pringle of Scot­land

Grey cot­ton polo shirt, £80,

by Polo Ralph Lau­ren

Heads up: Basquiat re­painted a grid­iron hel­met in 1981 — it’s thought — in trib­ute to a hero, black base­ball great Hank Aaron

Red cot­ton T-shirt, £30,

by Adi­das

Black cot­ton T-shirt, £70,

by San­dro

White/black cot­ton ‘UFO’

T-shirt, £530, by Gucci

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