(The Barbican, 21st September- 28th January 2018.)
The first opening weekend, Saturday. With my newly acquired office job weekends are all I have, recently moving back from London to the North west in July I quickly forgot how busy Saturdays can be. I would stay in my local Brixton community on those days. With this is mind it was a fairly good flowing system within the Barbican. Going top to bottom you go in circles following Basquiat's life, friends and fame in chronological order.
I got into Basquiat's artwork relatively late. Only discovering the effortlessly cool New York artist mid way into university. Not only interested in his paintings, but life and how differently the art lifestyle was within the 80's. It seems like a different world that you could live, have an art space and produce work in New York, while today's youth artists are struggling to pay off student debts and leave mum and dad's house behind including me.
The exhibit had an array of pieces from his bigger paintings, films, Polaroids, collaborations and props such as the painted helmet 'Jokohomo' and fridge.
Beginning a the top the first room 'New York/ New wave' focuses on the exhibit in the same name, opening in 1981. featuring over 100 emerging and celebrated artists, capturing the essence of the city and newly developing new wave culture. Basquiat was the only artist to be given a prominent space for painting, proving his raw talent. In room 1 15 of these early works are presented, exploring mediums such as paper, wood, canvas and foam. Responding to what Basquiat knew they present Manhattan life, responding to noise, cars and skyscraper skylines. This was one of my favourite rooms, not just because of the works, but the curation. From the works being awash of expression and rawness they were placed in a non conformed way, pieces were close to one another, some placed high and low, your eyes were pushed in all different directions, emanating the way Basquiat saw the world around him.
From here you are led to a room about his alter ego created with friend Al Diaz called SAMO a play on the phrase 'same old shit'. Mainly featuring photographs of their graffiti its strange to think someone though to keep documents of all this, and the ephemera they made.
The top floor covers 'Canal Zone' presenting a range of collaborative collage postcards, leading to 'The Scene' looking more of The Mudd club, which sets up the scene for room 5 'Downtown 81' Basquiat meeting Glenn O'Brian within the club, was offered a lead role in his film. Based on a day in the life of a downtown artist, almost as if the film was made for Basquiat alone. The film was mesmerising, featuring a charming young Basquiat it was difficult to move along. At this point he had only exhibited a single piece, aged 19.
His friendship with Andy Warhol is celebrated in room 7 presenting a range of collaborative pieces and photographs of them working. Being an artist I love seeing other people working, specially people who I am influenced by, I feel like I'm peering over their shoulder wondering what they are thinking and if they know what they are creating is apart of history. Their conversation with in the artworks is very much complimentary to each other, clearing seeing that its all bit of fun and they genuinely respect each other as an artist. Each allowing the other to be an equal....surprising for such a prominent figure such a Warhol. It is in this room also, that I really have a passion for how Basquiat makes his canvases, allowing the wood to be presented on each corner allows the frame to be seen as apart of the artwork, not just the passenger or container. It presents a raw urban expression, nails are hanging out, the wood is most likely second hand. Its a continuation of his life and surrounding area.
Through out the top floor, you are instantly submerged with the world he lived and can see that it wasn't just making art for arts sake, but that he needed to make it. It was just a thing he did and happened to be good at it. Organic conclusions and brain farts appear on large canvases, wood panels connected with hinges and clearly anything he wanted to paint on he did. It was life. From this alone I was heavily inspired, for I don't wish to heavily delve into why I am making something or if it has context... I just wish to make what I feel, whether that is good or bad is down to the viewer, but that isn't the point of making art...is it going to be seen or not? I don't care! I make because I have to. That is the difference with a lot of the culture these days. People seem to be getting into the art industry for the wrong reasons, its no longer a thing someone has to make to function and get any sort of satisfaction, which is sad and creates a barrier for the livers of art, not just the workers.
Creating from what he knows its difficult to not include music references, particularly for a 20 year old. In room 9 'Bebop' his paintings are dominated by the history of black jazz musicians. Charlie Parker in particular. This said, one of the favourite things in the show is presented upstairs was an LP cover and sleeve. Created in 1983, the record by American rappers Rammellzee and K-Rob was produced and directed by Basquiat. In his classic expressive style this black and white design is extremely modern and has a natural composition white retaining his unique flare.
The show overall is exceptional, usually in a exhibit I find myself hating the curation or the feel of the room from their counter flows, bad choice in wall colours or just a boring layout of pieces. But this show was clearly done with passion, love and understanding of not just Basquiat and the 80s New York culture, but of how his art would fit in the space, how people would stand and view the work in the space. From everyone going in the same direction you didn't feel the need to rush, or embarrassed to stand a little bit too close to a particular piece. Being an artist to recently moved home to the bland non-cultured North, it is just what I needed to get me back in my work flow and feeling like I am an artist. Almost feeling like I could befriend Basquiat, he wasn't an artist but a full creator. His thinking, producing and living all being on the same spectrum, having no time off his breaths exuded spray paint and pastels.
The one thing I did think was extraordinary (which Banksy touches upon outside) is the bag system. I understand it will be busy and there should be more space for people to walk, which a big rucksack doesn't help, but being created like a criminal as I'm opening my bag for there to be nothing in there is not a nice feeling, nor a polite humane one...
The show runs till early next year which I shall be returning to again at a more quiet leisurely opportunity.