Basquiat in Los Angeles

Born in New York in 1960, Jean-Michel Basquiat shot to fame in the art world during the 1980s. Basquiat’s energetic art drew inspiration from his mixed Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage and black cultural heroes, creating in his paintings a distinctive and subversive visual language. An artist of stirring emotional depth, Basquiat once said that his main themes were “kings, heroes, and the street.” He is recognized for the unique iconography he developed from urban culture, sports heroes, and jazz legends, as well as his ability to break down the boundaries between painting, literature, and drawing.

Basquiat in Los Angeles, Dot Red

James Van Der Zee
Jean-Michel Basquiat Photo, 1982

Basquiat’s footprint in contemporary art is undeniable, as he has become a reference for black artists and for all those intrigued by the 1980’s New York Art Scene. Given his deep influence and connection with New York City, his time in Los Angeles isn’t as frequently discussed, but does not fail to be an important pinpoint in his trajectory as the infamous artist we recognize today. 

At  21-years-old, Jean-Michel Basquiat arrived in Los Angeles under the guidance of art gallery owner Larry Gagosian, beginning to work in a small studio in Venice, where he could escape the pressures of New York. There, he executed the series of sixteen paintings that would eventually be exhibited in 1983 at the former Larry Gagosian Gallery in West Hollywood. During his time in LA, Basquiat developed a close working relationship and friendship with print publisher, gallery owner and art historian Fred Hoffman. Together, Hoffman and Basquiat produced six, now highly recognized, silk screen prints, two of which were included in the 1983 exhibition in West Hollywood.

Basquiat in Los Angeles, Dot Red

Having some of his most recognized works produced while living in L.A., it is important to reflect upon the impact that the artist had, and the footprint he left on the city’s contemporary art history. Was Basquiat’s passing through L.A. an event that significantly influenced the city’s art scene? How has it affected other artists, curators and art enthusiasts in their own artistic trajectory? 

Basquiat in Los Angeles, Dot Red

Our first hybrid event of 2023, “Basquiat in Los Angeles” happened during this year’s L.A. Art Week at Shutters on the Beach Hotel, this past February 18th and, simultaneously, on a livestream through our YouTube channel. Dot Red’s strategic advisor, George Davis, produced the event. We gathered a group of three panelists who, through an engaging conversation moderated by our CEO Jeremy Quant, allowed us to begin to answer these questions. 

We were pleased to have Fred Hoffman in our panel, who provided a historical perspective of Basquiat’s time in Los Angeles and the artist’s major accomplishments in the city. Alongside him, two well-recognized artists, Autumn Breon and Knowledge Bennet who shared their unique experiences of Basquiat’s ground-breaking career and work,and how these experiences have influenced decisions that they’ve made in their own careers with L.A. ‘s changing art climate.  The conversation was full of meaningful interactions and questions between the panelists and the public (both online and in-person), and provided an enriching experience for all those who attended. 

Additionally, the artists went into detail on their personal work and trajectory, including Autumn Breon who shared insightful information on her most current work, the installation “Leisure Lives” and the performance “Swag Surf in the Water”. Entwining perfectly with our chosen location for the event, Breon shared the importance of Santa Monica’s Bay Street Beach and the Black spatial imaginary, and how she integrated this into her most recent work at Frieze Los Angeles

Basquiat in Los Angeles, Dot Red

Knowledge Bennett
Basquiat Cojones (Silver)
Medium: Acrylic and Silkscreen on Canvas, 84×48″, 2017

Knowledge Bennet, on the other hand, shared his inspiration and influence from the hip-hop scene in his series “Cojones”, and how moving from New York to L.A. changed and bettered his artistic career as a self taught artist.

With the presence of Fred Hoffman, both the artists and the public were able to answer  burning questions about Basquiat, his artwork, and his overall relationship with the L.A. Art scene.

Finally, if you enjoyed the subject of this conversation, be sure to attend “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure”, an event organized, curated and presented by the family of Basquiat, which will be opening March 31st in Los Angeles, after being a nearly sold out during its time in New York. The show will feature over 200 never-before-seen and rarely shown works by the artist.

Our full conversation will be available to view on our social media and website, so be sure to subscribe, follow and share!