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Yutaka Sakano: Jean-Michel Basquiat 1983
Jean-Michel Basquiat in Issey Miyake 1983Photography © Yutaka Sakano

Unseen photos of Jean-Michel Basquiat wearing Issey Miyake in the 80s

We go inside the unknown Tokyo photo shoot that saw Basquiat in head to toe vintage Issey Miyake

In the early 1980s, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat was well on his way to becoming the renowned artist we know today. His rising success saw him exhibit in the Whitney Museum’s 1983 Biennial Exhibition alongside contemporaries such as Keith Haring, Jenny HolzerCindy Sherman, and more. That same year, he moved into an apartment owned by Andy Warhol. The pair met a year earlier and their friendship soon blossomed through attending events and galleries, as well as making work together. During this time, Basquiat made a small yet widely unknown trip to Tokyo where he was lensed in head to toe in 80s Issey Miyake by Japanese photographer Yutaka Sakano. Now, these never before seen portraits have surfaced and are on display for the first time at Galerie Patrick Gutknecht in Paris until 19 January 2019.

“This was a photoshoot with the Miyake men’s line for a men’s fashion magazine called Danse,” reflects Sakano. “The session was shot at a rental photographic studio in July 1983 called Studio Azabu in Tokyo.” Over three hours, Sakano shot Basquiat in four looks in front of a hand-painted backdrop, despite neither of them speaking the same language. In the results, Basquiat’s essence as a painter beams as he shifts and moulds his body into the same geometric shapes found in his neo-expressionist paintings. “In 1982, Basquiat was a sensation in New York, he was showing great art pieces. These photos were taken the first time he came to Japan, as he was preparing for his first solo exhibition here. I think he was in his golden age in 1983.”

“I think (Basquiat) was in his golden age in 1983” – Yutaka Sakano

The most incredible thing about this renegade Issey Miyake shoot is the way in which the duo communicated without language, proving how the powerful relationship between photographer and subject can traverse worlds. “Basquiat played around with every single object that was in the studio, like we see with the paint,“ Sakano explains. “He was comfortable playing the game, very enthusiastic. He was a sincere, very nice person. He knew how to move which was great for me as a photographer. He was very at ease posing in a very natural way, I didn’t have to say anything. We were mostly talking together by gestures.”

Over the course of the next five years, Basquiat returned to Japan for another exhibition in 1985 and kept making work until his death in 1988. In a contemporary internet world of oversharing, the fact that unknown Basquiat images are still resurfacing thirty years later is a testament to the artist’s powerful and ever-lasting presence in modern art. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Tokyo 1983. Photographs by Yutaka Sakano is on at Galerie Patrick Gutknecht until 19 January 2019. You can find out more here