Basquiat, Fuseli & Struzan

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Basquiat was an American artist born in Brooklyn, originally a graffiti artist as part of a duo called SAMO. He eventually gained fame and was exhibiting works internationally by the 1980s, he worked in the neo-expressionism and primitivism styles.

In his work, Basquiat focused on dichotomies such as wealth vs poverty, integration vs segregation, inner vs outer experience all through various means such as poetry, drawing, painting and the marriage of text and image. Social commentary in his works attacked power structures, racism and class struggle.

He was definitely a man of many talents, he also formed a rock band, worked and was friends with Andy Warhol, appeared in a music video for Blondie, produced a rap single and worked with Bowie. It’s quite the list of achievements most would be happy to have accomplished over a lifetime, Basquiat managed this in 27 years before he passed away due a heroin overdose. Some suggest the death of his friend Warhol triggered the depression which led to this sad turn of events.

I would suggest reading into him further if you’re interested, there is a lot of information out there that I won’t do justice to condensing into a blog post. Some of Basquiat’s work I really like and some of it I’m indifferent to, I especially like his wild use of colour and abstract figures.

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Henry Fuseli was a Swiss painter and draftsman born 1741, he spent much of his life in Britain until he passed away in 1825. He favoured the supernatural as his subject matter, regularly depicting mythological scenarios and nightmarish demons.

Fuseli was actually forced out of Switzerland as a result of helping his schoolmate Johann Kaspar Lavater expose an unjust magistrate, whose powerful family sought revenge. He travelled through Germany, eventually reaching Britain where he was recognized for his artwork.

He is regarded as a master of light and shadow, using pigments in the form of dry powder, hastily combined on the end of his brush with oil & turpentine, ignoring quantity and relying on accidents for general effect. Many attribute this reckless method of painting by the fact he did not begin to paint in oil until the age of 25.

Over his career he painted more than 200 pieces and around 800 sketches/designs. Me personally not knowing the first thing about painting, I really admire the quality and detail in his sketches, I can wrap my head around the techniques more. His paintings are absolutely gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, I just sit in awe lost in thought about the talent required to paint like that.

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Drew Struzan

As frequently happens during these little investigations into well known artists, you come across an individual who has had some influence on you even though you didn’t know them until now.

Struzan is an American artist (born 1947) known for his poster art and illustrations. During early education a counselor asked Struzan his interests and told him he had a choice between a fine artist and an illustrator. As a fine artist Struzan could paint what he wanted but as an illustrator he could paint for money. Struzan chose illustrator saying ‘I need to eat’.

“About his career, Struzan has said: “I was poor and hungry, and illustration was the shortest path to a slice of bread, as compared to a gallery showing. I had nothing as a child. I drew on toilet paper with pencils – that was the only paper around. Probably why I love drawing so much today is because it was just all I had at the time.””

After graduating Striven found himself a job in Pacific Eye & Ear, designing album covers. Over five years he would create artwork for artists such as Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Beach Boys, Bee Gees, Roy Orbison, Black Sabbath, Glenn Miller, Iron Butterfly, Bach, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Liberace.

Eventually branching off and starting his own small company (Pencil Pushers), Struzan began designing posters mostly for B-Movies. However it was his work for an upcoming major sci-fi movie that catapulted his career into hyperspace. Drew painted the one sheet poster for Star Wars – A New Hope in 1977. At this point in research, it had 100% of my attention. How had I not known about this guy before?!

“Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Struzan produced poster work for such films as Blade Runner, The Thing, The Cannonball Run, the Police Academy series, Back to the Future, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Muppet Movie, Coming To America, First Blood, Risky Business, D.C. Cab, Stroker Ace, *batteries not included, An American Tail, and The Goonies. By the 1980s, Struzan was producing approximately ten poster designs a year.”

He did the one sheet for Blade Runner! Allow me a moment to freak out that I’ve had multiple copies of this mans art framed on the walls in my home and I didn’t know his name! He even created the very first logo for Industrial Light and Magic.

Peter showed us a snippet from a documentary about his work. I’d like to find the entire thing and watch it, there was a lot of celebrities in the trailer singing his praises for obvious reasons.

I’ll post examples and sign off now knowing the name of the man that created the poster art for the majority of the movies that shaped me as a kid.

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