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Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio, Lizzie Himmel, 1985
Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio, 1985Photography Lizzie Himmel, via

Exploring Jean-Michel Basquiat’s eclectic musical influences

‘Time Decorated: The Musical Influences of Jean-Michel Basquiat’ looks at how jazz, bebop, hip-hop, no wave, and punk affected the iconic late artist’s life and work

“Art is how we decorate space, music is how we decorate time,” artist Jean-Michel Basquiat famously said. It’s impossible to underestimate the influence of music on the work of this celebrated artist, whose paintings incorporated a hugely diverse range of cultures references. Emerging from the creative milieu of NYC in the early 1980s, the city – particularly the East Village scene – was thriving with galleries, alternative art spaces, and music venues. Basquiat moved in circles of visual artists, writers, poets, and musicians who all influenced one another in an atmosphere of creative fervour. It’s remarkable to think that this relatively small district of New York once contained the likes of Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, Jenny Holzer, Keith Haring, Blondie, Madonna, Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe, and David Wojnarowicz (to name but a few) working, living, socialising, and making art and music in this enclave of the city.

Basquiat’s own musical endeavour, Gray, was formed with filmmaker Michael Holman (and an 18-year-old Vincent Gallo). The experimental art-rock group performed their distinct style of deconstructed melodies at seminal New York venues the Mudd Club and CBGB, and featured on the soundtrack to the cult movie Dowtown 81 (starring Basquiat and including a cameo by Debbie Harry). 

Time Decorated: The Musical Influences of Jean-Michel Basquiat is a three-part video series made by The Broad in Los Angeles, dedicated to exploring the impact of music on the work of the NYC artist. Focusing on the genres of jazz, bebop, punk, no wave, and bebop, each film will look at the lineage of each genre and how it played a role in his artistic vision and the visual langue of his work.

The museum’s founding director, Joanne Heyler, said, “Time Decorated offers nuanced insights from commentators whose expertise and knowledge in jazz and bebop, hip-hop, and afro-punk illuminate music’s bedrock role in Basquiat’s life and art. The series explores the wealth of music references in his paintings, and the themes of justice and resistance inseparable from those references.” 

The first segment – focusing on the impact of jazz on Basquiat’s work, and featuring Los Angeles jazz musician Terrace Martin along with contributions from music legend Quincy Jones – is available to watch now. The next two genre-spanning films will follow shortly and will include music from Gray, as well as tunes from other influential bands from the New York scene, such as James Chance and The Contortions and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.

The Broad will also mark the occasion by exhibiting all 13 Basquiat paintings in its collection simultaneously when it reopens to the public. In the meantime, the artworks – which includes “Horn Players, Untitled” (1981), and “With Strings II” (1983) – will be made accessible to visitors with a series of digital tours, Up Close with The Broad’s Curators, which will give the public access to the Basquiat paintings while the museum is currently closed due to COVID-19. 

Take a scroll through the gallery above to take a look at a few of The Broad's finest artworks from its Basquiat collection, along with other seminal works and memorable portraits of the artist himself. 

The first segment of The Broad’s Time Decorated: The Musical Influences of Jean-Michel Basquiat is available here. The next instalment, Punk and No Wave, will be available January 28 2021. Bepop 2 Hip-Hop debuts February 4 2021