A Rare Look at Basquiat’s Notebook
There are some painters who are born great (Picasso), some who attained greatness due to circumstances of their time (David), and some whose work grows in importance posthumously (Kahlo); Jean-Michel Basquiat is a rare case of a painter who managed to fall into all three of these categories. He was a prodigious teenager who came out of the gate fast with his graffiti work, which was timely and poetic and achieved meteoric success and celebrity in the 80s. Now, 30 years on, he is an artist whose every sketch, it seems, grows in complexity and meaning through retrospective and deeper readings. Basquiat fused drawing, painting, pop culture, and music with history and poetry to produce an artistic language and content that was entirely his own. Combining the tools of graffiti (Sharpies, spray enamel, and chalk) with those of fine art (oil and acrylic paint, collage, and oil stick), his best paintings maintain a powerful tension between opposing aesthetic forces—thought and expression; control and spontaneity; wit, urbanity, and primitivism—while providing acerbic commentary on the harsher realities of race, culture, and society in the early 80s New York social landscape. Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum is an excellent opportunity to evaluate fresh material from the collection of Larry Warsh, which has not been seen in any public exhibitions before.