Basquiat – “Riding Death”

One of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic works, painted in 1988. The painting does not contain the intricate text typical of this period of the artist’s work. It seems that Basquiat is trying to calm down, look inside himself. The painting depicts a human figure with dark skin, unhappy and lonely. The figure is carried by the skeleton of a “horse”. It may well be that this is a visual reference to the slang name of the drug, “horse”, a drug that will take Jean-Michel from our world in just four months. The artist chose a faceless field of gold color as the background of the painting. Maybe it symbolizes something sacred, a better life that the artist wanted to strive for. Or maybe this background is a symbol of glamor and money, into the abyss of which the artist plunged.

In February 1987, Andy Warhol died during a simple operation. For Jean-Michel Basquiat, this was the most serious blow in his entire life. Warhol was his mentor, teacher, guru. He helped the young protégé become a part of the world of American art, introduced him to many influential and simply interesting people. Provided him with housing and gave him the opportunity to write without restrictions. In the end, I just talked to Jean-Michel about everything, from childhood stories to philosophy.

We can say that this strange friendship was beneficial to both. Warhol was fueled by the irrepressible energy of Basquiat, because by the time they met, he was practically exhausted as an artist, the public was little interested in his work. Although Basquiat here, in general, could not change much: their exhibition of joint works was greeted by the audience very coolly. But, at least next to him, Warhol at least occasionally could feel young.

When Warhol died, Basquiat went all out. He practically stopped writing, cut off many contacts, disappeared for a long time (either locking himself in his studio house, or even leaving the country) and was constantly drugged. Sometimes he would come to himself in the middle of the street, trying to understand who he was and where he was. Once, in a narcotic delirium, he broke into the house of his former passion in one pajamas. At some point, there was a gap: Basquiat, who did not believe in rehabilitation programs, “broke down” himself, leaving New York. Then he started writing again. In one of the last days of his life, the artist created the painting “Riding on Death”.

“Speedball” – the mixture of cocaine and heroin, from which Basquiat died – is famous for the fact that it “burns out” all negative emotions, leaving the thrill in its purest form. Surely, under the influence of this couple, Basquiat could consider himself capable of anything – even to ride death. The hero of his painting, apparently, depicts the artist himself. His arms are pressed tightly to his body, while “ghostly” limbs float freely in the air. The sketched skeleton depicting death seems to completely obey the rider, but the threat is clearly read in the empty eye sockets of the skull. It is possible that this minimalist work became a kind of suicide note for Basquiat, who realized that a person riding death has only one way.

Year of painting: 1988.

Painting dimensions: 249 x 289.5 cm

Material: canvas.

Writing technique: acrylic, crayon.

Genre: figurative painting.

Style: neo-expressionism.

Gallery: private collection.

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