You don’t have long to see this show. I’ve come to it late and it ends on 28th January so you only have a couple of weeks to get down to the Barbican. You should go it is an utterly joyful show.
This is despite the fact that Basquiat himself died pitifully young at the strangely cursed age of 27. He produced a lot of good things in his short life.
In the mad environs of the Barbican it is a large show, charting the major points of his life. If you want to do it chronologically start upstairs. If you don’t care just wander round. Its all good.
The first piece I encountered was called King Zulu, a field of blue with jazz figures (above). However the better works are the more complex busier pieces. Many of his pieces are simply “Untitled” or “Self portrait” so reference to them can be quite difficult. For example there is a very good triptych self portrait which is just his silhouette (he has distinctive dreadlocks), one of which has a manic grinning mouth.
Next to it is King of the Zulus, a big mouth shouting Yarg. Energetic and engaging. His works have a number of same themes. Words, some of them crossed out or letters within the work, cut up images often an almost comic strip type arrangement (like the piece Glenn above), or strange maps like in Time Square. There are some terrific images in them such as the monkey in Alto Saxophone, an almost frankenstine like figure. He shows off his knowledge to, there is erudition and culture reference like in Sawbone of an ass which has a sort of chronology running down the middle, or in the pink tombstone like Mosses and the Israelites.
The most interesting of these is the one he did in reaction to his visit to London with its references to slavery and the sugar trade and naval power. Humour abounds such as the work “Jesse” which has the words Popey v The Nazis drawn in it.
The upstairs is the beginning, up on the right at the back is Samo, or possibly SAMO. Samo was Basquiat’s graffiti tag. He covered parts of new York with this humoristic slogans such as my personal favourite “SAMO does not cause cancer in laboratory animals.
The next room has his entry in the New Wave show, which is one of those defining shows in which a number of stars came. There are several good pieces but my favourite was an assembled piece called the Box which was a series of empty container type shelves, some painted black with skulls on them. There is also a self portrait which looks like a crazy robot with circuit board teeth (above). A vibrant and buzzing piece.
Basquiat meet Warhol. After their first official meeting (he had encountered him over) he rushed away and came back two hours later with this double portrait of the both of them which brilliantly captured the personality of both of them. This led to a fruitful partnership which lasted until Warhol’s death and then Basquiats shortly there after from an overdose.
It was during this period he produced I think my favourite piece a sort of mad dancing robot with a skull like head and circular hands as though he was directing traffic (above).
Over the otherside the show details various joint projects Basquiat was involved in such as a single on which he rapped and for which he designed the record sleeve (above). The most interesting project for me was a series of postcards he helped produce.
William John Mackenzie
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