Colors often represent a feeling or mood of a picture, so they are used to show an artist’s immediate reaction to the event being depicted. The celebrated artist, Picasso, went through a blue period where he used the color blue to represent his melancholic feelings after the death of a close friend. In Jean-Michel Basquiat’s graffiti illustration, ¿Defacimento?, the use of bright colors versus solid black and image positioning symbolize the theme of less fortunate youth being mistreated by authority.
The color black is often associated with race and paired with its opposite white. In the graffiti painting black not only represents race but it also shows the dehumanization of the young Michael Stewart. Stewart was an African American youth of New York City who was brutally beaten by police while he was “bombing” a wall in Manhattan. Stewart’s police beating was seen by peers as savage and inhumane, so this graffiti painting was made in response. In the film Style Wars the quote “just a kid growing up” was sprayed onto a subway car. This quote easily describes the events revolving around Stewart’s arrest. He was spraying and was mistreated by the bigger man. The simple black outline of Stewart reflects society’s views of graffiti bombers: they are nameless kids who should be arrested, or in this case beaten.
In contrast the police are depicted with bright colors and more detail than the black shadow. They are publicly seen figures, which are above the bombers of the streets. The ¿Defacimento? cops are similar to the cops often drawn onto other subway trains in the film Style Wars. The overly bright and almost childlike detailing is seen throughout graffiti police pictures. Positioning of the police figures also plays an important role in the picture. Because police figures are stereotypically seen as above the street artists, they are drawn above the shadow and at a bigger scale. Stewart’s shadow image, in contrast, is smaller and below the police.
In conclusion this illustration is a true representation of friendship and respect for one another. Graffiti artists often had mentors and mentees, like the young twelve year old being taught by the more skilled artist of Style Wars. The bombers looked out for each other and thus created a family system similar to the gangs described in Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Wont Stop. Basquiat used colors and positioning to show the injustice of the police force to his friend Michael Stewart. He and others knew of the unjust arrests and thus created and image to keep this idea alive.