Life & Culture

Beautiful and Unseen Photos of Basquiat in His Studio

Richard Corman shares his portraits of ‘the radiant child’ and recalls his encounter with the famed artist

This year one of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings became the most expensive at auction of any US artist, fetching $110.5m (£85m) in New York, while in London, the Barbican hosted the UK’s first large-scale exhibition of his work. And yet the person of Basquiat garners as much interest as his art. The pioneering prodigy of the 1980s downtown New York art scene, Basquiat dated the Queen of Pop Music (Madonna), was friends with the King of Pop Art (Andy Warhol) and modelled for Rei Kawakubo’s then-nascent brand Comme des Garçons. He was known and yet unknown, charismatic and yet enigmatic – something photographer Richard Corman remembers from his own encounter of the artist. In 1984 – around the height of his fame – Corman paid him a visit at his studio and took a series of photographs, some of which have never been seen.

Now, 33 years on, Corman is publishing these photographs for the first time in a portfolio printed in a limited edition of 20. Though three decades have passed, the photographer maintains that Basquiat is as important now as he’s ever been. “Not only is he as relevant today in the art world as he has ever been, but his very intimate social commentary through his artwork as it relates to race, politics, and class struggle remains even more prevalent today than ever,” he explains. “He was a visionary, as his poetry and painting have everything to do with what so much of the world is discussing today!”

Here, Corman shares an exclusive look inside this portfolio and recalls his encounter with Basquiat; what he was like to photograph and what made him so unique.

“I was assigned by L’Uomo Vogue to photograph him. When I walked into his studio on 57 Great Jones St, there seemed to be a creative party going on inside…with a wonderful sense of confusion. There was lots of people, lots of smoke, and completed artwork everywhere, along with artwork in the process of completion. JMB had a charisma that attracted a diverse group of people.

My first impression of him was of a shy, awkward, uncomfortable soul who was certainly not engaged with me initially. As I isolated him against 4’ grey paper, he began to come alive in a very unique, curious and charismatic manner. In my mind, he could not have given me more of himself for that one hour we spent together. I will always be grateful for that.

He was remarkable to photograph, as he ultimately seemed to share his intense and raw persona through his eyes, hands and what seemed to be an uncomfortable body language. I have never photographed anyone with his type of presence since.

His brilliance and his mind made him unique. His work was an absolute stream of his consciousness as he was a poet, a painter and a profound thinker who at the time was unlike anyone in his community.

Of course, I find these images revealing and more relevant today than ever, but I leave it to those who have a moment to look into the eyes of these portraits and determine their own opinions. To me, he was absolutely that ‘radiant child’.”

Head here to find out more about Basquiat: A Portrait. Designed and published by NJG.