And yet Basquiat was extremely productive, and in 1983, he had a breakthrough. He realized he could rid himself of the tyranny of the canvas and paint on other surfaces, thus leading to his groundbreaking use of wooden slats, starting with some fences that Dike found out back behind Gagosian’s house.
“Jean-Michel was feeling sort of uninspired,” Dike told Hoban. “He was really bummed out by the generic canvases they were rushing him to paint, so I started dragging in all these wooden fences and saying, ‘Dude, paint on these. These look really cool.’”
From that breakthrough emerged Self-Portrait, painted on two reclaimed doors. On one is an uncanny likeness of Basquiat, which is surprising since many of his self-portraits are distorted and don’t actually resemble him—as a Phillips press release notes, “Self-Portrait firmly takes a prime position in the pantheon of self-portraits in Basquiat’s oeuvre, one that perhaps like none other is filled with self-reflection.” On the other door, which includes an additional wood panel, is a series of images and forms along with a phrase he would come back to often: “To Repel Ghosts.”
Basquiat’s next solo show opened at Gagosian’s West Hollywood space in March 1983, and was an immediate success. Works were bought on the spot by collectors such as Eli Broad, who purchased the wood-support-mounted Horn Players (1983) as well as Eyes and Eggs (1983), a haunting work Dike had watched Basquiat make.
Basquiat was quickly becoming one of the most famous young artists in the world, and in February 1985, he appeared on the cover of the New York Times Magazine. But his fall from grace was just as swift, and by 1988 he was in the throes of full-on heroin addiction, trying to quit but never succeeding.
“One day he would tell me he was giving it up,” Vincent Gallo, the filmmaker who was in a punk band called Gray with Basquiat, told Haden-Guest. “The next he’d be boasting he was doing a hundred bags a day—more than Keith Richards.”
Dike saw him one last time, when Basquiat stopped in Los Angeles on the way back from Hawaii, where he had gone to kick heroin but had been drinking heavily.
“He was drinking any kind of hard booze,” Dike said in the Vanity Fair story. “He could drink a quart of tequila. It was to kill the cold turkey, I guess.”