In 1983 Basquiat took an extended leave from NYC to live in Los Angeles. Accompanying him was the reclusive, eclectic musician and artist Rammellezee and painter Torrick Ablack (aka Toxic). Basquiat was at the apex of his career at this time and during this trip to Los Angeles he tried to leverage his fame to encourage art world powerhouses to represent Rammellezee. He was not successful. “Hollywood Africans” is an exhausting look at the insatiable thirst for money and power and the bullish frenzy of 80’s art market. The historical subtext of trans atlantic slavery and sugar production is echoed throughout the painting.
In a self-referential moment Basquiat calls himself out as the heel putting himself in the middle of this melodrama as the protagonist and omnicient narrator. Ultimately it’s an indictment of Hollywood, the power structure, & art market greed.
In Hollywood Africans I see Basquiat caught between who he is expected to be (as a profitable entity) and who he really was (which could have been more like Rammellzee). Gallerists like Gagosian needed to put artists in a box to make them palatable and bankable. He couldn’t do that with Rammellzee, who defies any form of categorization.
All of this made me think of the Grammys for some reason. From the kerfuffle between Ledisi and Beyonce to whitewashing of hip hop with Iggy Azaela, the music industry has always packaged artists in neat little boxes. If you don’t fit the mold, you don’t sell.
Case in point, in the 2000’s songstress Res had style and a voice that defied categorization. She had a little bit of a rock edge to her with deeply soulful melodies, but labels didn’t know what to do with her. She was one of the most underrated artists of the decade. When I think of Basquiat’s Hollywood Africans and Res’ song Golden Boys, I see these themes meet head on.
2 thoughts on “Artist a Day Challenge No. 10 Basquiat & Golden Boys”
It’s a delicate dance; artist ultimately want their work to reach and inspire people. It’s hard for them to stay true to who they are once the fame and fortune arrive, because most folks get used to this new life.
Basquiat is an interesting case because while successful during his life, his fame skyrocketed after his death. I get the impression that he was one of the few artists who didn’t change much after the praise and accolades arrived (I could be wrong though).
Wow, I remember Res; my wife really dug her stuff. Perfect example of how “not fitting into a box” can be one’s downfall.
Thank you so much for commenting. It’s certainly a fine line. My understanding of Basquiat was that he well taken care of to enable him to pursue his art. In the 80’s many gallerists offered lucrative subsidies to artists to mass produce their work. I think that this kind of commoditized support can catch artists in a double bind between between the life that fuels their creativity and the life subsidizes it. It’s really no different with music and major record labels. There are examples of artists whose debut albums were so monumental, but the art was borne out of a different economic place for them. With fame many lose their edge.