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A night of tribute to iconic Brooklyn artist Jean-Michel Basquiat comes to Green-Wood Cemetery

Brooklyn has produced many artists who have influenced the entire world, and one of best known is Jean-Michel Basquiat. Through his productive years, art critics agree, he revolutionized the art world with bold expressive works that spoke to the grit and excess of the 80s. 

Thirty-five years after he died at age 27, Basquiat’s legacy still drives hundreds of people to honor him at his grave site in Green-Wood Cemetery each year — it’s the most-visited site on the property, according to the cemetery’s president, Richard J. Moylan.

On September 8th, Green-Wood will honor and celebrate his life with “From Canvas to Stage,” a night of live music, poetry, and visual artMultidisciplinary artists will project, display, and perform their new works — each inspired by Basquiat’s art and legacy. 

Jazz, Blues Gospel and Soul by Lezlie Harrison will lead the musical part of the night followed by the band Shrine for the Black Madonna, and classic music by Firey Strings Company with Nioka Workman. Seven poets and four visual artists will take part in the performance too.

“We should commemorate his death this year and every year as a way to remember that we too can be unapologetically vulnerable in this aggressive world,” said Joanna Sagesse, an associate art history professor at Brooklyn College. “His art is so full of feelings and it is so New York: busy, expressive, inviting and yet troubling.”

basquiat painting green-woodJean Basquiat’s obituary in The New York Times read, “Jean-Michel Basquiat was remembered as a man who pursued every aspect of his life with drive and devotion, including those that were destructive.”Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The artist produced approximately 2,100 artworks from small drawings and sprayed walls to large canvasses and even a paint-adorned refrigerator door, according to the Brooklyn Museum. Toward the end of Basquiat’s life, his works were selling for around $25,000 to the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, where he had never been invited to put up an exhibition.

“They still call me a graffiti artist,” Basquiat told Vanity Fair at the time.

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn as the son of a Haitian immigrant father and a Puerto Rican mother. By his accounts, his father was physically abusive and his mother suffered from mental health issues. She was hospitalized for depression when Basquiat was young, but she started him into the art world by taking him to the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum often. She also gave him a copy of “Gray’s Anatomy,” and the anatomical drawings from the book impacted most of his art.

The artist often said he felt friendless and misunderstood. He ran away from his home and spent nights sleeping at Washington Square Park.