Books on GIF #7 — 'Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art' by Phoebe Hoban


Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This Sunday's book is 'Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art' by Phoebe Hoban.


This is a biography of Brooklyn's own beloved, legendary, historic, infamous and [insert adjective] artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

I first encountered Basquiat through Julian Schnabel's 1996 film, 'Basquiat,' and was mesmerized.* And I was overwhelmed by his work at the Brooklyn Museum's retrospective in 2005. His paintings are intense, original and actually have something to say — unlike so much other contemporary art.

Hoban's book tries to cut through the hype and hyperbole about the artist. It does so indirectly, by recreating the downtown New York art world of the 1970s and 1980s: The world of Warhol, graffiti and Blondie. Here's Basquiat making a cameo in 'Rapture.'**

That world created Basquiat, turned him into an art super star and ultimately destroyed him.  It was filled with greedy art dealers, feckless hangers-on and mooching friends who all tried to score off his art, his fame, his money, his race, his women*** or his drugs. The book seethes with disdain.

You don't hear much from the artist himself. But hearing from those who knew him best, you're left with a portrait of a man brimming with talent, wonder and originality who was crippled and ultimately undone by his insecurities. He desperately wanted to be loved, but he never trusted that those who claimed to love him actually did. That loneliness led to drugs. He was dead at 27.

The book was such a downer. I felt like I was watching somebody I cared about die and not only could I not do anything about it, but I had to watch as others did next to nothing to help. It was a 'killing' indeed. 

'Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art,' by Phoebe Hoban, was published in 1998 and 2004 by Penguin Books. 393 pages, including index.

My rating:

What's next? In the coming weeks, I'll review 'A Time for Everything,' by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and 'The Theory of Poker,' by David Sklansky, among others.

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* I'd argue that Schnabel is a better film director than painter. What do you say?
** Jennifer Clement's 'Widow Basquiat' tells the story of Suzanne Mallouk, one of the more important women in the artist's life. It is also a sad story. The best book in the woman-talks-about-artist genre is "Life with Picasso' by Francoise Gilot.  An amazing book.
*** This is when Debbie Harry begins the worst rap verse that has ever happened.