Graffiti Connection: Basquiat and Banksy
Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy hold different positions in the rise of the street movement. The artists had an unofficial collaboration in 2017 when Banksy incorporated a figure from Basquiat’s Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump painting and the artist’s crown motif with his own classic stencils. Their styles and backgrounds could not be more different, but their success in the art world speaks to the wider narrative of how street art and fine art intersect.
Basquiat and Banksy represent different generations of street art. Basquiat was introduced to street art during his adolescence, with him and his friend, Al Diaz, inscribing SAMO© and provocative phrases across the 1970s New York cityscape. The young artist began painting on canvas to try and earn a profit. At the time of his first show, his paintings sold out before the public showing and amassed him six-figures in a single night. Banksy rose out of the Bristol underground graffiti scene during the early 90s. His use of stencils and clever social commentary awarded him recognition beyond the streets and into international galleries and exhibitions. Today, both artists have made the impressive transition from graffiti artists to highly-coveted names in the art world.
Beyond emerging from similar scenes, the artists’ styles and methods could not be more different. Basquiat’s paintings echo a stream of consciousness, where seemingly unrelated ideas are sprawled across the canvas and incorporate outside materials such as markers, debris, and paper scraps. Viewers could stare at the same piece for hours and come out with different theories for what was running through the artist’s head. While Basquiat combines abstract elements, his paintings gravitate loosely around imperialism, art history, and Black liberation.
On the other hand, Banksy’s pieces show a concise, polished image with a singular interpretation or meaning. His paintings push a singular facet of social commentary or progressive idea. The images Banksy leaves are polished, planned for, and produced in a professional manner.
Apart from overlapping anti-authoritarian sentiments, the artists also share a disdain for the hierarchy of the art world. In both of their works, they call out the art market and commodification of art they deal with first-hand. One of the best examples is Banksy’s Morons print mocking an art auction. This rejection translates to their personal lives as well. Banksy prefers to keep his real identity anonymous. While Basquiat had a high profile during his lifetime, it clashed with his private nature and he became more and more reclusive until his untimely death.
Despite their relationship with fame, Basquiat and Banksy have an undeniable effect on the art world. With Basquiat as a predecessor and Banksy continuing the legacy, their street art beginnings and success in the art world have changed the meaning of “high art”.