“I never went to an art school. I failed the art courses that I did take in school. I just looked at a lot of things. And that’s how I learnt about art, by looking at it.” In the BBC’s about-to-be-released documentary From Rage to Riches, Jean-Michel Basquiat, who holds the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold by an American artist, is discussing his art education.
Basquiat’s close friend and collaborator Fab 5 Freddy (AKA Fred Brathwaite) will tell you the same story. In this exclusive clip, Brathwaite recalls how he and Basquiat would spend time learning about classic paintings together at New York’s Metropolitan Museum: “One of the things that made us become really good friends was that we both spent a lot of time going to museums as kids. Somehow the idea popped up to start ‘museum club’ and Wednesday was the day we would hop in a cab and head to The Met.”
After meeting at a party in 1979 and sharing a studio together in Chinatown, Brathwaite and Basquiat would often pretend to be art students, taking sketch pads to The Met to pretend they were emulating classic works. They shared a joint love for, and spent a lot of time, admiring Michelangelo Caravaggio’s Baroque paintings. “Caravaggio is just so great,” he says. “Me and Jean-Michel talked about this. We dug him and we did some reading about him and the fact that he carried a sword was pretty bad boy for that time period... If you carried a sword, you were gangster. You carried it because you were gonna use it, or you were not afraid to use it.”
Basquiat: From Rage to Riches airs on 7 October at 9pm on BBC 2