Art Clip of the Week: Downtown 81

Fin Murphy

1981 was a big year for Jean-Michel Basquiat, despite spending a portion of it homeless. It saw the late Haitian-American artist meet and impress Andy Warhol, gain critical attention in the press and play a DJ in Blondie’s Rapture music video. Also, alongside Debbie Harry – plus the likes of Fab Five Freddy, James Chance, Amos Poe – Basquiat starred in the Glenn O’Brien written and produced Downtown 81.

The film substantially draws on the life and times of 1981 New York City, whether the artistic scene of emerging punk, hip-hop and graffiti, or the lives of the cast itself. Basquiat’s character too is a rough sleeper, creating early works to sell on the street that nowadays decorate bank vaults. The whole thing is on YouTube (minus the audio), but here’s the gist. 


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