“I remember getting up in the middle of the night and he wouldn’t be in bed lying next to me; he’d be standing, painting, at four in the morning, this close to the canvas, in a trance. I was blown away by that, that he worked when he felt moved.” Perhaps it was the artistic impetus of Basquiat that propelled Madonna to finally comprehend the extremes one must go through to reach fame and success
The relationship between them is now only a faint glimmer in the great annals of music and art. The outlandish photographs document this ephemeral love, which was ultimately enshrined in fame and glory. Madonna loved Basquiat, but this devotion wavered under the pressures of his heroin addiction. Basquiat was at the epicenter of the social and artistic elite, since he took the consumerist pop model of the time and transformed it into a social commentary that lashed out against systems of racism and power structures. Madonna was a step away from reaching stardom, and in the second year of their relationship, she released her album, which launched her career as one of the most influential pop figures in music.
No one truly knows how this relationship started. While Basquiat reigned over the street art movement in Manhattan, Madonna was fashioning herself as the future queen of pop. They began to go out in 1982, and at that point Basquiat was profiled as a promising artist and was already deeply enmeshed in the world of heroin.
New York became the capital of the entertainment world, a new Mecca that had supplanted Paris as the epicenter of art and culture. It was during those heady artistic years that Basquiat became a vibrant and frenetic figure yearning to reach the pinnacle of success. He became known as the L’Enfant Terrible who would wear an Armani coat while he worked, and after finishing he would walk down the street with a spray of paint covering his clothes.
Handsome, unapologetic, and fearless, he conquered Madonna or perhaps it was the other way around. The reputation of this seductive singer was beginning to grow and both seemed immutable to the rising wave of fame. By then Basquiat was living in a loft in Lower East Side. His place was covered with his work, and his clothes were scattered everywhere. A dark halo covered this enigmatic artist, and in this chaotic little world Madonna accompanied him in silence, simply waiting for him to finish his next masterpiece.
He introduced her to the highest artistic circles of the time, and Madonna became a new postmodern muse that both enlightened and created in equal measure. Fashion designers, artists, and other musicians gravitated towards her, towards Basquiat’s girlfriend, the future queen of pop. She dared to wear keys on hear breasts, copied the most fearless fashion trends of New York, and made references of her boyfriend using a can of spray and covering the genitals of greek sculptures with paint.
It was decades later that Madonna finally opened up and confessed that it was heroin created the rift between the couple. While she loved and respected his talent, his addiction to heroin was too much to bear. When the relationship ended, Basquiat asked for the paintings he had gifted back, and he covered them in black paint, never to be admired again.
What was it like to be Basquiat’s lover? Suzanne Mallouk recalls, “He loved women. He loved sex. He always had a lot of women. The only time he was faithful to me was the first few months that I lived at the Crosby loft. He had many small relationships with many different women. He would become bored quickly, though. That’s why I always had a problem knowing if I was really special to him. I still sometimes don’t know. Other people tell me I was. He once told me that the only women he had ever loved were me and Jennifer Goode.” His desires were never monochromatic; they were driven by the spirit. According to Suzanne, he was attracted to people who bore the same inner pain he could never escape from, “he loved people who were one of a kind, people who had a unique vision of things.”