Jean-Michel Basquiat - Boom for real 04 January 2018
In 1988 I remember watching a South Bank Show documentary about a young American artist who had just recently died from a heroin overdose. It told a story of SAMO a teenage graffiti writer living in a box in central park in the late 1970s who scrawled the city’s walls with wild esoteric prose who went on to be discovered by Andy Warhol and eventually to become one of the most successful and highly paid artists of the 80s. I was immediately hooked on Basquiat.
Since then, apart from a small show of privately owned works in a Cork Street gallery in 2003, I’d never seen Basquiat’s work in all its raw glory… until the Barbican opened the first large scale exhibition this September. The show is a real assault (in a good way) on the senses and a compelling journey through Basquiat’s story.
It begins on the mezzanine level with works created for the New York / New Wave show curated by Diego Cortez in 1981. Made on different materials, wood, canvas, paper and scrap metal the work sets the scene for what’s to come. Crude renditions of urban life accompanied by seemingly random interruption of colour and hand written text.
The journey continues by taking a step back into Basquiat’s formative years under the moniker of SAMO. It was fascinating to see early articles in The Soho weekly news along with photographs of SAMO graffiti on walls around Manhattan. The real highlight was the original artwork for postcards that Basquiat would create and sell with Jennifer Stein.
The exhibition continues through rooms showing Basquiat’s involvement with The Mudd Club and subsequently Arena, highlighting Edo Bergoglio’s Downtown 81 which shows a day in the life of Basquiat as a down and out artist drifting through various downtown art scenes.
At the half way point the volume goes right up showing the work produced at the Great Jones Street studio leased for Basquiat by Warhol. Here the work shows an eruption of creativity. Wild colour, marks and language run over crudely constructed canvases. The works both captivate and confuse, intrigue and repel. At moments it’s like looking into an insane mind that has an unbridled stream of consciousness.
There’s no rules and no limit to Basquiat’s work. It is unapologetically visceral, it speaks loudly in a covert language and it astounds and perplexes in the same glance. For me there’s an uncompromising honesty to Basquiat’s work that reflects a truly unique artistic perspective that we’ve not seen since.
The exhibition runs until 28 January 2018