Over the weekend I enjoyed an afternoon alone exploring the Basquiat: Boom for Real Exhibition at the Barbican. I was so bummed to realize I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside the exhibit! I spent about 2 hours in the exhibit learning about Jean-Michel Basquiat, his travels, studies, friends and the many layers to his artwork. I apologize in advance if this seems a bit choppy but I am just sharing snippets of my favorite parts of the day I spent at the Barbican!
I am not going to lie, when I first got up-close and personal to the work I was a bit underwhelmed with his technique. It wasn't until I learned more about what inspired his work and the layers/meaning behind much of the collage of what I saw to really appreciate it. Jean-Michel had this saying, “boom for real” meaning he would take all the things in his world that inspire him, big or small, interpret them through his own vision and make them explode onto the canvas equally for us to look at and interpret.
He was a self taught artist. Created from the heart and made masterful art based on his explorations in literature, paying homage to black culture and black figures such as jazz musician Charlie Parker and boxer Jack Johnson.
He sampled an array of material as he described: 'I get my facts from books, stuff on atomizers, the blues, ethyl alcohol, geese in Egyptian glyphs'. I love how much of his book smarts he put into art form. He used crayon on paper to create his untitled work in 1983 which was something like a certificate.
I really appreciated his love for art and the freedom of expression. I found his SAMO© street art to be very inspiring for its urge to break out of the box. SAMO© is a play on the phrase "Same ol Shit" and he took that to the streets with the help of Al Diaz. At this time in 1978, NY was on the brink of ruin. While graffiti was all over the city, theirs was different. It was surreal, witty and designed to capture the attention of the blossoming art world of SoHo and Lower East Side. Some of my favorite tags they did were:
- 2 nine - 2 - five nonsense wasting your life 2 make ends meet to go home at night to your color tv
- As an end to the brim fantasy called life
- As an end to sexual mutants & micro-wave existence
- As a realizations process
- As an end to the police
- Microwave & video x-stance "Big Mac" certificate" for x-mas
- As an alternative to boosh-wah-zre fantasies think
Shortly after his 15 minutes of fame as SAMO©, he became the Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat was garnering a following and friendships amongst the art crowd, with people such as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. As his solo career began to take off, around the early to mid-80s he stopped signing his work with SAMO©, instead using Jean-Michel Basquiat.
BASQUIAT & ANDY WARHOL
During the exhibit I learned that Andy Warhol and Basquiat were quite close friends. The exhibit showcased postcards between the 2 during Basquiat's trips and a copy of the lease from the studio they both shared in New York. One of my favorite paintings the two collaborated on was the Arm & Hammer II paining (1985). There was a clear message from Basquiat overwriting (better yet defacing) Warhol's corporate logos. The logos were a shorthand signs for the materialistic modern psyche. Basquiat's spin was more real to me. In a way it showed him vainly railing his fist at a largely invisible and insidious monster (materialistic America). I interpreted this many ways. The so called strong symbolism of America portrayed by the logo was built on the backbone of black people and the censorship of their own passions and desires to create - forced to create the corporations of America.
By 1984 The Village wrote a bit on him titled "New Kid on the (Auction) Block". I was upset to see that as the title but considering race relations I am not surprised. The article gave him his credit however, stating that in 2 years his work had appreciated in value by 500%!
THE MOVE TO HIP - HOP
In the 1980s the hip-hop movement was huge. Basquiat was influenced by this scene as well as he was introduced to musician Rammellzee and graffiti artist Toxic. In 1982, the two joined Basquiat on his trip to California to prepare for his gallery show. Rammellzee and Toxic jokingly referred to themselves as the "Hollywood Africans" and Basquiat made this the title for his portrait for the trio. I absolutely loved this painting!
Back in New York in 1983, the 3 produced a single 'Beat Bop' that Basquiat created cover art for. It was so amazing in a roundabout way to see this in person as I had just wrote a blog about this in June! I was inspired from an Alice & Olivia shirt that used this print but I got to see this in person and it really meant a lot to me. Read more on 'Beat Bop' here
After the exhibit I spent the rest of the evening with myself enjoying the scenery behind the Barbican. It was so serene and watching the sun go down was the perfect end to my Friday. I ate some food and admired the trinkets and book I got from the Basquiat gift shop. It is truly a liberating feeling to be on my own in another country for the first time, doing what I enjoy and spending time with myself! Waking up asking myself what I want to do and doing it with no limits! It's a great gift!