Michael Holman is a New York-based artist, writer, filmmaker and musician. He is also an early 1980s, downtown scene “subculturalist”, best known as the screenwriter of the film Basquiat and creator of the hip hop music program Graffiti Rock. Holman was a founding member, along with Jean-Michel Basquiat, of the experimental rock band Gray.
In 2016, Holman’s archives were acquired by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Additional Holman artifacts were acquired by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Holman has performed his “Confessions Of A Subculturalist” spoken word performance at the Bruno Walter Auditorium in Lincoln Center, and his sound and video “The Subjective Gaze, Parts 1&2” performance at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
Holman wrote and directed Nile Rodgers’ We Are Family Foundation 10th Anniversary Gala and the Tommy Boy Music 30th Anniversary Performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Holman received a Bachelor of Economics degree from the University of San Francisco in 1978. He later attended the New York University Graduate School of Film.
While dancing at a disco in northern California, he got recruited into a theatrical rock band called The Tubes.
In May 1978, Holman moved to New York City to work on Wall Street. There he discovered the Fab Five graffiti group and befriended Fab 5 Freddy. In April 1979, Holman organized the Canal Zone party with Stan Peskett, Michael Holman and Fab 5 Freddy, which showcased the talents of the emerging hip hop culture for a downtown audience. At this event he met a teenaged Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat and Holman formed the experimental noise band Gray.
Gray band, films, and TV
Gray performed at various, historic venues including Hurrah’s, Mudd Club, CBGB and The ICA in London, and recorded music that appeared in films such as Downtown 81, Basquiat, and Boom, For Real, The Late Teenaged Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Holman created installation art at the Mudd Club, notably “The Soul Party” in 1980, and made short art films that premiered at The Mudd Club, Tier Three, The Ritz and other venues.
Holman was consulted and credited with story development on the screenplay for the 1996 Miramax feature film Basquiat, directed by Julian Schnabel. He also appeared in the film which depicted the life of his late bandmate Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the 1990s, Holman and Nicholas Taylor, another original member of the band Gray, created sonic music performances at clubs such as Club USA, Sybarite, Nuyorican Poets Cafe and The Ritz, where they opened for Todd Rundgren. Gray release their first album, Shades Of… in 2011 on Plush Safe Records. A remastered version of the album with additional remixes was released on Ubiquity Records in 2019, that features the work of producers such as: Todd Rundgren, Hank Shocklee, Deantoni Parks, Mike Tewz and King Britt. Since 2010, Holman and Taylor have re-launched Gray. They first performing at the New Museum in July 2011, then in 2012, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Questlove of The Roots (within Questlove’s Shuffle Culture avant-garde show).
Holman wrote, produced and directed Children’s Television programming for the Nickelodeon Network, specifically Blue’s Clues and Eureeka’s Castle.
Hip Hop impresario
Holman was reportedly the first writer to use the term “Hip Hop” in print (East Village Eye, Jan. 1982). He introduced Malcolm McLaren to the music of Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation band. Holman opened for McLaren’s band Bow Wow Wow in 1981.
Holman created, managed, and choreographed the B-Boy dance crew legendary New York City Breakers, and created the first company called Hip hop International Inc in 1983. Touring the world and performing for the likes of President Ronald Reagan and the UK’s Prince Andrew. Holman helped produce and 2nd unit direct the feature film, Beat Street. Holman opened Negril, the first Hip Hop nightclub in Downtown New York, then created, hosted and produced the first Hip Hop television show in 1984, Graffiti Rock. He later wrote Breaking, a book on Hip Hop Culture for Scribner’s Publishing.
His voice has been sampled on the Beastie Boys track “Alright Hear This”.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame/Brooklyn Museum show: “Roots, Rhymes + Rage: The Hip Hop Story,” features Holman’s many Hip Hop artifacts and writings.
Career in Journalism and education
As a writer and journalist, Holman has written for the East Village Eye, ArtForum and Art Monthly.
Holman taught courses at institutions such as Howard University in Washington, D.C., the Photo Workshops in Maine, and New York City’s The New School For Social Researchin Manhattan. In 2011, Holman began teaching short film screenwriting at New York’s MPS Live Action Short Film Department at the School of Visual Arts and Media Courses at the City College of New York.
Working as a fine artist, Holman deconstructs social-political symbolism on canvas. His paintings were shown at the Massey/Klein Gallery (2018), and Miami Art Basel in 2007 and 2008, and the Spring Break Show in New York City.
Holman’s archives were acquired by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division in 2016. In the same year, a few of Holman’s artifacts from the 1980s were acquired by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.