Henry Geldzahler (Part I)
In 1976, Jean-Michael Basquiat began “writing” his unique brand of graffiti throughout Manhattan under the name “SAMO”. His work from the first consisted of conceptual, enigmatic combinations of words and symbols, executed with the curt simplicity of a late Roman inspcription.
Graduating from subway walls to canvas and from the streets of New Yorke to the galleries of Soho, Basquiat took the art world by storm with his rampageous one man show at Annina Nosei’s gallery, early in 1982. His first one man show, perhaps ironically, as not in New Yorke, but in Italy, in Modena. Exhibition since then have included Documenta 7 and the Fun Gallery, New Yorke.
Henry Geldzahler: Did you ever think of yourself as a graffiti artist, before the name became a middle class luxury?
Jean-Michael Basquiat: I guess i did.
Did you work in the streets and subways because you didn’t have materials or because you wanted to communicate? I wantted to build up a name for my self.
Teritory? Did you have an area that was yours? Mostly downtown. Then the “D” train.
How’d did you pick the “D” train? That was the one I went home on, from downtown to Brooklyn.
But you knew Brooklyn wasn’t going to be your canvas from the beginning. Manhattan was where the art goes on, so that was where you where going to work? Well, SAMO wasn’t supposed to be art really.
What were the materials? Black magic marker
On anything? Or something that was already prepared and formed? The graffiti? No. that was right on the streets.
Did you have any idea about breaking into the art world? No.
But when I saw you, you were about 17 years old. You were showing me drawings, that was 4 or 5 years ago… I was in the restaurant, WPA, in Soho. Yeah, I remember.
So you already had work to show. No, I was selling these postcard and somebody told me you had just gone into this restaurant. It took me about 15 minutes to get up the nerve to go in there. I went in and you said, “Too young” And I left.
Cruel, but true. It was true at the time.
Where you furious? Sort of. I mean, too young for what, you know? But I could see, it was lunch time. “Who is the kid?”
The next time I saw you was about two years later abouve a loan soap at the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. I was impressed; I was amazed, especially by the picture I got. Is that going to fall apart? Should I have it restuck, or put it behind glass? Anything is fine. A little gold frame
What was your idea of an art as a kid? Did you go to the Brooklyn Museum? Yeah, my mother took me around a lot.
Did you have any idea what Haitian art was? No. I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was young.
When I first met you, you mentioned Franz Kline. Yeah, he’s of my favorites.
I heard you ‘d been spreading a rumor that you wanted to have a boxing match with Julian Schnabel. This was before I’d ever met him. And one day he come into Annina’s gallery. And I asked him if he wanted to spar.
He’s pretty strong. Oh yeah, I though so. But I figured even if I lost, I couldn’t look bad.
Who’s paintings do you like? The more I paint the more I like everything.
Do you feel a hectic need to get a lot of work done? No. I just don’t know what else to do with my self.
Paintings is your activity, and that’s what you do… Pretty much. A little socializing.
Do you still draw a lot? Yesterday was the first time I’d drawn in a long time. I’d been sort of living off this pile of drawings from last year, sticking them on paintings.
Are you drawing on good paper now or do you not care baout that? For a while I was drawing on good paper, but now I’ve gone back to the bad stuff. I put matte medium on it, it seals it up, so it doesn’t relly matter.
I’ve notice in the recent work you’ve gone back to the idea of not caring how well stretched it is; part of the work seems to be casual… Everything is well stretched even though it looks like it may not be.
All artists, or all art movements, when they want to simplify and get down to basics, eliminate color for a while, then go back to color. Color is the rococo stage, and black and white is the constructed, bare bones. You swing back and forth very quickly in your work. Are you aware of that? I don’t know.
If the color gets too beautiful, you retreat from it to something angrier and more basic… I like the ones where I don’t paint as much as others, where it’s just a direct idea.
Like the one I have upstairs. Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything under that gold paint. Most of the pictures have one or two paintings under them. I’m worried that in the future, parts might fall off and some of the heads underneath might shoe through.
… …(to be continued…)