Review: Basquiat (SelfMadeHero)

Part of SelfMadeHero’s Art Masters series, Julian Moloj and Søren Mosdal have produced a really interesting graphic novel that chronicles the chaotic life of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s. With a brief and bright layout, it does a great job of giving a reflection of the anarchy his life entailed.

Publisher: SelfMadeHero
Writer: Julian Moloj
Artist: Søren Mosdal
Price: £14.99 from SelfMadeHero

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 – 1988) was an intriguing and talented artist. If you have ever seen one of his art exhibitions you will have experienced this sense of wonder first hand. Despite his talent, he also led a chaotic life, which resulted in his untimely death at the age of only 27.

His work has been celebrated the world over and has influenced multiple genres across the arts scene, and so in this graphic novel biography the segments of his life are drawn in snappy, colourful, unmarked chapters, which enhance this overriding tone.

We travel from his humble beginnings as part of the anonymous art duo SAMO, through to his big break and his collaboration with Andy Warhol. It’s an unconventional journey and one which is backed full of eclectic characters. We don’t get to know many of these faces, bar Basquiat himself very well at all. But this appears to serve as a reflection of his life – the lack of stability and an incapability to maintain a social balance in any part of his life was instrumental in both his own style but crucially his downfall.

Søren Mosdal provides the artistic backdrop to Moloj’s tale. Many of Mosdal’s panels containing dialogue are drawn as close ups. The effect is that you experience the explosive side of Basquiat’s personality, especially when he clashes with people in the art world or in positions of authority, of whom he was famously very critical.

Mosdal conversely draws scenes where Basquiat is in a reflective mood in panels using a ‘zoom out’ model. This technique heightens the sense of calm in these moments and punctuates this frenetic novel well.

Nothing goes into great detail on the surface. The colours are bold and, aside from depictions of Basquiat’s art, it is very simply coloured in i.e. no patterns or intrinsic detail. This has the great effect of keeping you distanced and giving you great insight into the author’s perception of Basquiat as a troubled genius.

Moloj gives the characters some additional context when you are least expecting it. It is very cleverly done and it gives ‘Basquiat’ significant substance just at the point when you might be left wanting more.

Moloj and Mosdal have produced an enjoyable biopic about one of art’s greatest twentieth century characters. You ride the rollercoaster with Basquiat from start to finish – and, as with any great ride, you are both thrilled to have experienced it but a little sad it was over so soon.