By Jacqueline Knox
The first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) – Barbican Centre.
21st September 2017 – 28th January 2018
This exhibition is just amazing and a must visit if you are in town. It is staged chronologically from room to room which helps to understand Basquiat’s development if you are not familiar with this artist. What struck me was the multidisciplinary nature of his work. I had seen some of his paintings in exhibitions but was unaware of how collaborative his work was in terms of media and mixing his ideas. Throughout the gallery space there are photographs, sketch pads, note books, letters, collages, sculpture, music and film. Because of this multi-disciplinary nature of the exhibition you really feel immersed in the culture of New York 1980’s and the context in which he produced his work.
Sketched into his work are scribbles, words and phrases either drawn into wet paint or added as collage. These words tackle issues such as African cultural heritage or homelessness reflecting the desolation in New York at that time.
There is a room devoted to photographs of his graffiti in the early 1980’s which further develops the context in which he lived. From these you can begin to understand his later work that is a composition of scribbles and graffiti but full of colour, shape, texture and line.
What becomes apparent as you walk through the gallery space is the ‘technical underpinning’ of his paintings. Even if you do not know much about this artist it is evident that he had a technical drawing ability. Basquiat knew how to draw and compose pictures. He was a gifted draughtsman and drew constantly, being inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci and Cy Twombly.
However, despite this brilliant underpinning of excellent drawing skills when I think of Basquiat I think of colour. It seems that Basquiat does not have a ‘signature palette’, he appears to use all colour but there is an emphasis on colours from Africa and the world around him , the ‘street’. In magazine or book reproductions his work is eye catching but in the flesh his paintings are mesmerising. There seems to be a spontaneous explosion of this energy and colour.
Basquiat’s art tackles issues and this exhibition gave me an insight in these issues. In essence his art, be that graffiti, music or paintings makes you think and reflect. You realise that not only is there a technical underpinning to his spontaneous paintings but that there is much thought behind the process and the films of him drawing and painting reflect this. Basquiat was self taught with a quest for knowledge that originated from spending his childhood in the many of the Museums of New York developing this knowledge of history both culturally and artistically. His scribbled words convey depth and references to history and the daily life surrounding him.
You do not need to know anything about this artist to enjoy this exhibition as it is curated so well that it literally draws you in and gives you an understanding of this artist. I spent just over an hour at this exhibition but there is so much to take in that I am going back to view the photographs and early films in more depth. I would advise spending time on this section as they really help to understand where the later work came from and the context in which it came to fruition. You really need to allow an hour and a half, minimum.
The accompanying catalogue is also a worthwhile buy as it covers the exhibition with an in depth analysis of the artist.
I am familiar with the Barbican for seeing Dance, especially Michael Clark but seeing an art exhibition in the gallery space was very different for me and it worked well. Access to this exhibition is really easy. You can take the tube using either Barbican, St Paul’s or Moorgate stops. I always use Santander Bicycles and was pleased to find the bike park just outside the main entrance to The Barbican.
I visited the exhibition late on a Friday night and happily it was relatively empty. My friend and I met in the Cocktail bar on the first floor which sells drinks and nibbles only. The exhibition space itself was amazing being on 2 floors and very quiet.
Handbags/ backpacks etc are not allowed in the gallery space but there is a cloakroom next to the gallery where you can place these.
Basquiat: Boom for Real is at The Barbican
from 21st September 2017 until 28th January 2018.
Barbican Centre – Silk Street, Londres – EC2Y 8DS
All images in this article were reproduced with kind permission from the Barbican Centre.