Old Hat Basquiat?


Is it cliché to be a Basquiat fan these days? I don’t hear or see many younger writers noting his work or citing him as an artist they admire. Was he too hip? More legend than artist? Or merely a “graffiti maker” (which he denied vehemently)? Was his style too uneven or messy? Correct me, please. I’d love to know his fan base …

This morning, I’m digging the book I bought myself for Christmas, though it has received mixed reviews as being too similar to the catalog preceding it. I haven’t seen the earlier one, so I couldn’t care less. The essays within are worthwhile, and I’m happy not to have to trek out in this cold & wind to the Brooklyn Museum to re-visit many of his paintings and drawings.

Basquiat led a life of highs and lows; here’s a brief bio & an elaborate one with excellent assorted video clips of the man himself. And hmmm

For your winter day amusement, an excerpt on the artist’s mechanics from Marc Mayer’s essay, “Basquiat in History”:

…When Basquiat provides his paintings with his inescapable, chattering ground of drawing, as he does in a great number of works, he promotes the traditional role of the preparatory sketch from a preliminary exercise of ratiocination to the ultimate manifestation. His increasing practice of gluing large, single drawings to canvas, moreover, as opposed to building up a ground from smaller drawings, emphasizes his position in this regard.

If we remember how Synthetic Cubist collage attempted to blur the boundaries between art and the world, by reframing actual tokens of modern life into wistful, abstract compositions, we see Basquiat instead preferring to create a hermetically closed system with his analogous procedure. He papers over all other voices but his own, hallucinating total control of his proprietary information as if he were the author of all he transcribed, every diagram, every formula, every cartoon character–even affixing the copyright symbol to countless artifacts of nature and civilization to stress the point–without making any allowances for the real-life look of the world outside his authorized universe. In “correcting” Cubist collage, Basquiat appears to have found the fly in the ointment of modern art, which had set it on its ineluctable death trip: art means never giving reality a chance to speak for itself.

–from Basquiat (Merrill Publishers: 2005)

No Responses to “Old Hat Basquiat?”

  1. Mia Mia Mia Mia Mia Mia Mia Mia Mia Mia Says:
    February 19th, 2006 at 1:40 am eSo this is the scenario that usually happens: It is Saturday morning. Nature is being unhospitable. The Saturday morning cartoons that they play now-a-days suck (or the old ones sucked too, but you were too young to have any taste or sophistication to know any better). So you put on channel 307 or 836 or 465 or whatever and watch a movie that you have never heard of, that is already half over. You watch it anyway because it is better than the Saturday morning cartoons. As it turns out, the movie half that you’re watching is a biographical docu-drama about Alfred Kinsey or Cole Porter or Johannes Vermeer or Jean-Michel Basquiat. You think to yourself “I’ve always wanted to know more about Kinsey or Porter or Vermeer or Basquiat. As it turns out, the movie half that you’re watching about some great person is a poorly written, poorly directed travesty that should have ended at a key scene and did not. You feel robbed of an hour of your life. You no longer feel like finishing the mimosa and Fruity Pebbles breakfast that you prepared for the occassion. You know that your generation has no originality, so they keep on remaking television shows and movies and biographies that were fine the first time. And now they’ve made them worse. And everytime you see you see something else pertaining to Kinsey or Porter or Vermeer or Basquiat, you can’t help but think about that horrible film you saw on Saturday morning. In the future, everyone notable will be tainted by bad movies.
  2. Christopher Says:
    February 20th, 2006 at 7:49 pm eHow Basquiat handles the figure reminds me very much of Dubuffet. In terms of composition, he also seems like a latter day Lautreamont turned visual artist. I’m thinking of that line from Maldoror: “the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Which is as much to say that B’s work pays homage to collage, while taking the idea in different direction.

    I don’t agree with Mayer when he suggests that B creates “a hermetically closed system”; so far as I can see, the visual system is quite open, not only self-reflexive in its performativity, but also rife with “extra-textual” ques that direct one outwards, away from the art. B’s use of ambiguous shape (e.g., a box with an x in its center, which could represent almost anything) tends to open up his work, rather than shut it down. But what do I know?

Art Painting

AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

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