A mesmerising portrayal of New York City’s art scene in the early 80s and one its luminaries: Jean-Michel Basquiat seen through the eyes of his partner Suzanne Mallouk.
Canongate Books 2014
If you are expecting a stock-standard art biography you are in for surprise. This is a strikingly different biography that is written in short, lyrical and poetic chapters about the life of an iconic American artist, whose life was cut short by drugs, Jean-Michel Basquiat.
This biography is stirring and evocative of a time and a place. New York City in the early 80’s was the era of early hip hop, amazing Post-Punk and New Wave music, and an electrifying avante-garde art scene, in the form of Andy Warhol and others such as Basquiat.
To be a fly on the wall during this time would have been very interesting. Widow Basquiat is refreshing, instead of seeing Basquiat as an enigmatic and cult-figure of underground art, we also witness him as a frail and vulnerable human being with a lot of faults.
He treated his lover and muse Suzanne Mallouk terribly and gave her an STI, which left her infertile and he cheated on her all of the time. Yet we also glimpse the immense tenderness, passion and love they had for each other too.
He was fond of extravagance, excess and eccentric whims and would buy Suzanne expensive cakes and flowers. He would paint in expensive Armani suits and then throw them away and ride everywhere in a limousine. All of the quirks and chameleon-like aspects of Basquiat’s personality show through in this narrative, along with the chaotic, exhilarating art circles that they both moved in.
The narrative switches between the words of seamless biographer Jennifer Clement and the words of his long-suffering lover and muse Suzanne Mallouk. This story is both Suzanne’s: a poor, violent and love-starved upbringing and also Jean-Michel’s, with its similarly violent and chaotic early years. You can see that they were drawn to each other by this trauma, like two damaged war orphans.
Basquiat was yet another iconic artist who died at the age of 27 – just like Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. This book shed some light on him as both artist and man, in all shades of light, dark and grey. This is a poignant and moving story, yet it moves as fast as a whip from the past to present, making this a very exciting to read, highly recommend this.