Basquiat at 101 Crosby Street (Jean-Michel Basquiat)

Dimensions140 cm x 122 cm x 27 cm
Materials Cast glass and steel

Collection Tom and Ruth Kelley, Highland Park, Illinois

From 1977 to 1992 I lived on the 5th Floor at 101 Crosby Street in New York City. For two of those years 1982 and 1983 Jean Michel Basquiat lived on the 3rd floor at the same address. This was a loft building with a large industrial freight elevator that opened up directly into each tenant’s living and working space. Jean Michel was a friendly guy and frequently when the elevator opened into his space, we chatted a bit. But moreover, I was able to see what he was working on.

These were the years just after he had stopped being SAMO and he was getting representation by the Anina Nosei Gallery. Jean Michel was a young black guy living and working in the art world, which at that time had not made much room for cultural diversity. On the outside this did not seem to faze him, and he took the massive attention that he was beginning to receive with a sense of amusement.

As a sideline, he played clarinet in his band that was called Grey. This may or may not have come from the lyrics of an Oscar Brown Junior song “When I was a lad, simple notions I had. There was wrong, there was right, there was plain black and white. But now I’m a man and I’m lost in a land; I’m lost in a world full of grey”.

Several years later and no longer living on Crosby Street this young, lost, wildly successful man died from a heroin overdose at the age of 27.

The image that I have created is an abstraction of the open elevator doors with the viewer peering in at the ongoing work. The images I used were taken from work Jean Michel produced while working on Crosby Street. I have split his head so that you are looking at his constantly changing hairstyles and on one hand the casual clothes he normally worked in and on the other the Armani suits he favored. Also, the format makes you wonder what he is thinking at that moment. The phrase “Most young kings get thier (misspelling is his) head cut off” appeared in one of his paintings and prophesized the dreadful reviews he received in the show he did as a collaboration with Andy Warhol just before his death.