The Making of a Portrait: Michael Halsband’s Photograph of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat

Michael Halsband is known for his striking portraits of celebrities, from rock stars to artists, as well as his commercial work for major publications such as Vogue, GQ, and Esquire. In 1981 and 1982, Halsband was the photographer for the Rolling Stones’ tour and became a photographer for a number of major editorial and advertising campaigns in the following years. His visibility as a photographer and connection with celebrities led him to the photoshoot that became one of the most recognized projects.

Here Jessica Hunter, our cataloguer for photographs and photobooks, takes us through the encounter that led to one of the most recognizable partnerships in the art world, and one iconic portrait.

An Invitation to Dinner

Andy Warhol, Flowers, color screenprint, 1970. Sold May 12, 2016, in Contemporary Art for $35,000.

Invited to a dinner held by Andy Warhol in the back room of a New York restaurant, Halsband was seated next to Jean-Michel Basquiat, whom he had briefly met at a photo sitting years earlier. Striking up a conversation, Basquiat told Halsband that he had been a fan of his work for the past five years. Later, Basquiat asked Halsband if he would photograph the poster for his and Warhol’s upcoming collaborative exhibition “Paintings”, mentioning that they wanted a boxing poster theme.

The Making of the Portrait

When Halsband agreed to the task, Basquiat informed Warhol of Halsband’s involvement. Warhol reminded Basquiat they had asked Robert Mapplethorpe to photograph the poster, but Basquiat insisted on Halsband’s involvement. Thus, began the story of the creation of one of the most iconic portraits of the two artists and lasting evidence of their friendship and competitiveness.

Michael Halsband’s double portrait of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat pictured side-by-side and wearing Everlast boxing trunks and boxing gloves, with their arms crossed over their chests, is only one image from a series of about 15 rolls of film taken during the photoshoot. The photographs depict the artists together and individually. However, this bold and highly contrasted photograph has become one of the most iconic portraits of the two artists.

Andy Warhol & Jean Michel-Basquiat

The collaboration between the Warhol and Basquiat began when Warhol was formally introduced to Basquiat in 1982 by Basquiat’s dealer Bruno Bischofberger.

“Down to meet Bruno Bischofberger (cab $7.50). He brought Jean-Michel Basquiat with him. He’s the kid who used the name ‘Samo’ when he used to sit on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village and paint T-Shirts and I’d give him $10 here and there and send him up to Serendipity to try to sell the T-shirts there.”

Warhol describing the initial meeting between himself and Basquiat in his diary

Within hours of their lunch, Basquiat had produced a portrait painting, which he had delivered to Warhol. The introduction created a relationship between the two. Basquiat moved into Warhol’s Great Jones Street loft, and they worked collaboratively from 1983 to 1985 on several paintings. The artistic relationship proved mutually beneficial with Warhol’s established name as an artist and Basquiat’s fresh energy.

“I just wanted to meet him [Warhol], he was a great hero of mine”.

Basquiat, 1985 interview

Warhol & Basquiat at Tony Shafrazi Gallery

Despite the artists’ names, the exhibition, which opened in 1985 at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York, received harsh criticism from reviewers, including Vivien Raynor of the New York Times. Raynor stated that “the collaboration looks like one of Warhol’s manipulations” and that “Basquiat meanwhile comes across the all too willing accessory”. The critique ends by stating “Warhol, TKO in 16 rounds” referencing the exhibition’s 16 paintings.

The harsh reviews about the show and Basquiat’s criticism for being Warhol’s “mascot” had a large effect on the breaking up of their friendship, with Basquiat cutting off his relationship with Warhol completely. However, the striking portrait of the two taken by Halsband remains a reminder of the collaboration and relationship between two of the twentieth century’s most recognized and collected artists. 

More from Jessica Hunter: A New Muse: Robert Mapplethorpe and Lisa Lyon

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