"Basquiat's early career, in particular, synthesizes performance, music, and visual art in a way that was then unprecedented and is now unparalleled.no artist has ever so profoundly embodied a cultural movement as Jean-Michael Basquiat personified hip-hop culture in its brilliant infancy" -Franklin Sirmans
Painted in 1983, Jean-Michel Basquiat's Danny Rosen represents a moment in the artist's career when he was the central figure in New York's burgeoning art scene. During the early 1980s, the city witnessed one of the most innovative periods in American cultural history as with the emergence of Hip-Hop, the rise of street art and the birth of the cultural phenomenon that came to be known as Madonna, New York became the epicenter of an emergent global youth culture with Basquiat firmly front and center. Distinguished by its rich iconography, this painting displays the array of symbols, words, and drawings that make the artist's work so compelling. On a monumentally scaled vertical canvas, Basquiat plays out his own excited narrative using a visual language all his own. Colorful, mask-like faces, cryptic symbols, words and cyphers mix with various anatomical details, vegetation and ethnographical heads jostle with more cartoon-like renditions of the human face. Words appear--and are crossed out for extra emphasis--and then placed innocuously next to objects to which they bear no relation. Basquiat's outpouring of imagery is held together by an exploratory train of green vegetation that winds up through the arrangement, acting as a compositional device and pulling all the various elements together into one harmonious whole.
The Danny Rosen mentioned in the work's title was a friend of the artist and a regular on the downtown club scene. By 1978 Basquiat had already left home and was living in Manhattan, sleeping on friends' sofas and frequently staying at the Canal Street loft of British artist Stan Peskett. Peskett often threw parties at which he invited the uptown graffitists, including Fred Braithwaite and Lee Quinones, downtown, although often more for the exchange of musical ideas than art. At one of these parties Basquiat met Rosen, along with Michael Holman, a future member of Gray (Basquiat's band), and the trio immediately became part of the burgeoning downtown club scene. Together Basquiat, Rosen, Holman (and Vincent Gallo who would also join Gray) were referred to at the clubs as the "Baby Crowd" and soon developed a reputation for their stylish dress-sense and frenetic dancing.
This period was among the most creative in New York's cultural history. For the first-time, artistic categorization began to breakdown as a new generation of young artists began to disregard convention and revel in the unrestricted nature of their new found expressive forms. For Basquiat this was heavily influenced by his own upbringing, his love of art history, and from the heritage of his Haitian and Puerto-Rican parents; a vibrant mix which resulted in the heady concoctions that he created on the surface of his canvases, "Like a DJ, Basquiat adeptly reworked Neo-Expressionism's clichd language of gesture, freedom, and angst and redirected Pop art's strategy of appropriation to produce a body of work that at times celebrated black culture and history but also revealed its complexity and contradictions" (L. Yee, quoted by F. Sirmans, 'In the Cipher: Basquiat and Hip Hop Culture, in M. Mayer (ed.), Basquiat, New York, 2005, p. 94).
Basquiat's innovative painterly style wasn't restricted just to the painted surface. The visible wooden stretcher dates the painting to a short period beginning in late 1982 when Basquiat eschewed the traditional support hidden from view behind the canvas and instead began to produce works in which the stretcher was clearly visible. This lends the work an extra degree of edginess--shattering the illusory traditions of painting and making the work as much an object as a painting. It also gives the work a sense of spontaneity with four strips of wood crossed and attached at the corners demonstrating Basquiat's commitment to the assembled readymade in which one can feel his raw and impulsive presence.
Simultaneously both figurative and abstract, Basquiat's imagery and brushwork formulate a painting that interweaves the human form with a staccato rhythm of signs that convey a sense of the mental hurly-burly of modern urban living. The untamed energy of Danny Rosen provides a window onto the frenetic pulse of Basquiat's life and links his past as a graffitist with his new status as an established artist, presenting us with a raw and vivid impression of the urban world he inhabited.