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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Jean-Michel Basquiat Crown: The Crowned King of Neo-Expressionism

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a true artistic force, rising from the gritty street art scene of 1970s New York to galleries showcasing the art world’s masterpieces. While his life was tragically cut short, his work reverberates to this day. Among his most striking contributions is the recurring image of the Jean-Michel Basquiat crown, a symbol imbued with meaning, rebellion, and raw power.

Why a Crown?

Why a Crown: Jean-Michel Basquiat Crown

Perhaps, on the surface, the crown seems an odd choice for an artist so connected to street culture. Crowns generally embody privilege, inherited power, and an often oppressive establishment. Basquiat’s genius shines here—his crown serves many purposes throughout his paintings. Let’s dive in:

  • Celebrating Black Excellence: Basquiat’s Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage background shaped his view of a world built on historical and institutional racism. To him, the crown signifies a reclamation of power. His works center on Black figures, especially athletes, musicians, and influential thinkers, wearing this three-pointed crown. It isn’t about traditional wealth, but the royalty of achievement and the respect Basquiat believed they were denied.
  • The Crown of Thorns: Sometimes, the crown transforms, reflecting pain and the weight of the struggles often faced by his heroes. Like a modern Jesus figure, it’s an image of martyrdom, particularly as a commentary on the way some of his idols faced early deaths or intense battles. It shows that beneath success, even kings can carry crushing burdens.
     
  • Crowning Himself: Did Basquiat see himself in those he painted? Absolutely. While his work elevates those who inspired him, the crown appears in numerous self-portraits, too. Some interpret this as ego, but there’s more to it. It’s as if he’s saying, “My art deserves respect; I belong among these legends, and I won’t be dismissed.” This act was defiance in the face of a predominantly white art world that sometimes saw his work as primitive or outsider art.

Interpreting Jean-michel Basquiat crown

Like Basquiat’s work in general, there’s no single, easy way to decode his crowns, nor should there be. They work on multiple levels, forcing us to confront a tangled history and its impact on how we perceive kings and those considered less important.

Let’s look at a few specific examples to see how this plays out:

Case Study 1: Charles the First (1982)

  • Who and What: This piece focuses mainly on the word “pork,” scrawled repeatedly, likely a critique of consumerism and how those with less become products. But there’s more: “Charles the First” could reference historical English monarchs, hinting at power and its often corrupting nature. But it also evokes jazz legend Charlie Parker, whose struggles became an emblem of troubled brilliance.
  • The Crown: It floats awkwardly atop a fractured visage, not with elegance but instability. It could be the crown slipping from a traditional ruler, commenting on societal structures. On the other hand, for Parker, a man tormented by addiction, it may signal both genius and an uneasy crown of destructive fame. 

Case Study 2: Irony of Negro Policeman (1981)

  • Who and What: Here, we find the skeletal and somewhat monstrous figure of a Black police officer. Basquiat uses a childlike style, making this unsettling. There’s no crown directly, but its concept hangs over the work. In a society deeply scarred by racial injustice, a policeman serving that unequal system is no king but an emblem of complex oppression.
  • The Crown’s Absence: Sometimes, the lack of a crown speaks as loudly as its presence. Instead of elevation, Basquiat forces us to look at the hard reality many communities face: there’s no triumph here, despite the uniform that grants temporary, hollow power.

The Ongoing Power of Basquiat’s Crowns

Basquiat’s art speaks truth to power in ways that still feel strikingly fresh. Sadly, social divisions persist, and those fighting for equal ground too often pay a heavy price. His crown is no easy solution; it’s a provocation painted with admiration and unflinching honesty.

Crowns Beyond Basquiat

The impact of Basquiat’s work extended beyond his tragically short life. His use of the crown has influenced both the art world and broader culture:

  • Keith Haring’s “A Pile of Crowns”: Keith Haring, a fellow artist and friend of Basquiat, created this poignant piece after Basquiat’s death. It depicts, as the title suggests, a simple pile of crowns. There’s an immediate feeling of loss, a scattered kingdom left behind. But it also reinforces that Basquiat’s coronation of Black heroes was a shared movement, an artistic rebellion that would reverberate long after he was gone.
     
  • Hip-Hop’s Royalty: From Biggie Smalls with his tilted crown to the very name “Queen Latifah,” hip-hop culture draws heavily on Basquiat’s visual symbolism. In a musical world born of expressing marginalized voices, the crown isn’t about inherited wealth; it’s about self-respect, demanding recognition, and achieving greatness against formidable odds.
  • Modern-Day Conversations: We now see echoes of Basquiat’s crowns everywhere – street art confronting social power structures, fashion brands, and tattoos. It’s a testament to the power of an image to transcend, evolve, and remain relevant decades later as new battles for equality and recognition continue.

Is the Crown Still Relevant?

A valid question is this: has the meaning of Basquiat’s crown changed over time? In some ways, yes. It’s moved beyond Basquiat to serve as a broader symbol of defiance, particularly about uplifting those overlooked by traditional power structures.

Yet, Basquiat’s original concerns are, unfortunately, far from outdated. Questions of race, who is celebrated vs. who is dismissed, and how society distributes power are still at the heart of our world. His crowns remind us to be uncomfortable, look honestly at how social “value” is assigned, and ask if everyone gets a shot at royalty.

Contradictions and Power

Contradictions and Power

It’s also worth noting that Basquiat’s crown carries some inherent contradictions, and those tensions add to its lasting power:

  • Fame vs. The Streets: Basquiat moved from outsider status to art market darling, which some felt diminished his message. Yet, even as his status changed, his paintings often grapple with the dangers of success and the way systems try to exploit even radical voices. His crown reminds us that the struggle isn’t over just by gaining celebrity.
  • Individual vs. Community: Are his crowned figures solely meant to emphasize individual achievement, or do they call for the elevation of whole communities and cultures? It’s a rich subject for debate, adding complexity to how we engage with his work.

The Crown that Questions More Than it Answers

Ultimately, the power of Basquiat’s crown lies in its open-endedness. It asks questions about who and what we value. It forces us to consider the nature of power and how it’s earned, bestowed, and abused. And by placing it above marginalized figures, we must reconsider our traditional notion of who truly deserves respect and celebration.

FAQs

Did Basquiat always use a three-pointed crown?

While the simple three-pointed crown is his most iconic version, he experimented with it—sometimes more detailed, occasionally appearing shattered or distorted. The underlying concept — the crown itself — is more fundamental than its design.

Where did Basquiat get his inspiration for the crown?

Many possibilities exist: the often-overlooked crowns in Afro-Caribbean history, religious iconography with its crowns of glory and suffering, and a fascination with symbols of status, as shown in his use of corporate logos.

Are Basquiat’s crowns always positive?

Not. They carry tension with them, often being connected to figures who seem powerful yet burdened. Like much of his work, there is darkness underlying the celebration.

Is the crown only about Black figures?

While it features this aspect of his work prominently, the crown concept isn’t restricted by race. Basquiat explored a broader commentary on how society undervalues various individuals and groups.

Conclusion: The Enduring Reign of Jean-Michel Basquiat Crown

The crowns we find in the raw honesty of Jean-michel Basquiat crown work remain influential decades later. They challenge, provoke, and defy traditional expectations of both art and power. While Basquiat’s life ended too soon, his painted crowns have achieved immortality, forcing us to confront necessary questions with each iteration, much like the debate surrounding kick smoking, start vaping: Why vaping Is better? prompts us to reconsider our health choices in the shadow of artistic legacy.

Is this crown about reclaiming the ignored royalty of Black brilliance? Yes. Is it an act of artistic self-declaration against those who dismiss outsider expression? Definitely. Is it also about fame’s dangers and questioning the nature of success? Without a doubt.

Mary Kate
Mary Kate
Mary Kate is a Freelance Writer and Social Media Manager who helps finance professionals and Fin-tech startups build an audience and get more paying clients online.

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