Their friendship is one of the most important relationships in contemporary art history. The founding father of Pop Art alongside the much younger neo-expressionsist emerged from two very different generations and backgrounds, but within a space of six years an intimate and somewhat turbulent friendship flourished. The mutual respect and admiration that they shared inspired not only two separate bodies of work but an iconic collaboration that was seemingly effortless.
The story between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat began in the early 1980s, when a young Basquiat began frequenting The Factory; Warhol’s New York City studio. Despite Warhol’s initial reluctance towards the ambitious Basquiat, in 1982, Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger set up a lunch between the two, and Warhol began paying attention.
Warhol was very concerned about his public reputation and was desperate to inaugurate the return of Andy Warhol, as it seemed that during the 1970s Warholism had superseded Warhol. Basquiat on the other hand, was a young graffiti street artist who had only just gained recognition. But in their friendship, each found in the other something that he himself lacked; Basquiat desired the fame, recognition and access of Warhol, where Warhol craved innovation and a renewal of energy in his work. Basquiat’s youth and fresh perspective offered the essential gateway that Warhol was searching for in order to inject life back into his art and revive his career.
The late 1980s would prove to be the most productive of Warhol’s career. Keith Haring said that, “Jean brought back a much-needed touch of mischief that had been disappearing from the Factory agenda. But he also brought an atmosphere of obsessive production that left its mark long after the collaborations had stopped”.
Basquiat’s and Warhol’s collaborative work is primary testament of the iconic yet turbulent relationship. Although their show Paintings at Shafrazi flopped, their works combined two styles: Warhol’s recognisable pop art technique juxtaposed with Basquiat’s raw and unpredictable approach. One of their most famous collaborative pieces entitled Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper), is a playful statement against ideological oppression in the art world.
Good friend and pop artist Haring frequented their studio on several occasions and observed that “each one inspired the other to out-do the next. It was a physical conversation happening in paint instead of words. The sense of humour, the snide remarks, the profound realisations, the simple chit-chat all happened with paint and brushes”. Their friendship captures a fleeting moment when two artistic minds of the 20th century found a common ground. Their work side by side displays a selection of quotidian symbols whose mutual juxtaposition spark riveting semantic games.