The Truth: Jean Michel Basquiat vs. Wilfredo Lam

Whats the reason for our existence? Do we live to seek millions of dollars and die alone or are we constructing a legacy for our people to remember us for eternity? Art has always had a greater impact, especially when it yields the potency of the truths in the world. Jean Michel Basquiat, a once known brilliant and controversial artist who succeeded in turning graffiti street art into top shelf gallery artwork in the height of the 80’s, and Wilfredo Lam, an Cuban artist who sought to depict the reality of his people through his staggering artwork were always good at unraveling these truths.These artists both hold very similar styles and values that create chaos in their artwork but hide deeper messages behind the brush. Both artists explore the history and social realities of their own worlds and ethnicity to captivate the free minds of the people. Many people look at pieces of art and analyze the aesthetics of it but often neglect the most important part. What is the deeper meaning? The vicious reality of today's culture is often masked and wrapped up in the worlds fast paced lifestyle and both Basquiat and Lam both bring truth through powerful artwork to the injustice, discrimination and violence that actually happens in society. These artists have lived not only to fame but to showing the world for what it truly is and leaving a legacy that lives for eternity.

Basquiat first established himself as a graffiti artist under the name SAMO©, who defaced the New York streets keeping the city buzzing around waiting for his next move. He would often “tag” the sides of buildings with different phrases or quotes that would always make you take a second look.Looking at this piece of work done by Basquiat you can see that there's more than one thing that pops out to you right away. Basquiat will often throw a lot of randomness and messy art at you but he really wants you to dissect it and unravel the story hes telling behind his art. Your eyes first bring you to the black figure to what he seems to be holding a crate that says ROYAL SALT INC written directly in the middle of it. You then see this solder standing to the right of him holding a gun. The word poachers is illuminated in the box and around it “TUSK$ and SKIN$”. This may be reference to the epidemic that ran through Africa. “Poaching Crisis” was what it was called, a illegal wildlife trade was happening back in 1990 of the elephants and rhino tusks and people would violently take the tusks off these elephants and rhinos leaving up to 30,000 animals left for dead with hopes to turn these tusks into a 20 billion dollar trade industry. This can be an insinuation the the fact black people in this society are looked at as animals and are being hunted down, not literally hunted for death but hunted for our relevance. Basquiat has always been deeply connected to his roots and closely kept to his culture. In the documentary, “The Radiant Child” you could see how his free mind and ability to stay aware was an obvious trait in Basquiat. He never had a problem of speaking his mind to the truths of the society back then which was filled with hate and discrimination and didn't let people forget how he felt through his artwork.

Jean Michel Basquiat

Basquiat’s work compared to Wilfredo Lam is definitely quite similar for they're both very intriguing and fun to look at. Behind the vibrant colors and outlandish artwork each artist portrays both always have a story behind their work. What is driving this piece for each artist.

Wilfredo Lam, an Cuban painter who is known for his role in the surrealist movement and his style of modern art always keeps his history and culture near him when hes painting. Lam developed his signature style which uses Cubism and Surrealism in his Afro-Cuban art to depict the truths of Cuba and how the people are actually living.

Wilfredo Lam- Jungle

In this piece by Lam titled “Jungle”, you can see the exquisite texture and unorthodox style Lam acquired through the years of painting. This piece depicts these mythical stick like figures within an airport like jungle filled with bamboo sticks and banana leaves, very crowded and detail oriented. Lam put masks on these figures, similar to Basquiat, and gave them by exaggerating definitions of breasts, buttocks. The connotation of this piece is often missed. with all these elements in alignment, this piece of work is addresses the history of slavery in Cuba when it was colonialized.

The techniques of Basquiat and Lam are not that far off from each other , yet living in two totally different time periods they still manage to convey the same message in both their art. The power of voice and speech is something often overlooked and people don't understand the power behind it. To have a voice in today's government filled society is saying so much. Most people are scared to voice their opinions or only “toe-dip” in the realities of our society and to have people follow you and your voice is with the persuasions hailing over us is amazing. Basquiat and Lam are known for this type of work and their message lives on through their art.

Works Cited:

Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

“Poaching Crisis in Africa.” Tusk. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

“Wifredo Lam | Biography — Cuban Artist.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

“MoMA.” Wifredo Lam. The Jungle. 1943. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.