Henry Geldzahler: Is the impulse to know a lot, or is she impulse to copy out things that strike you?
Jean-Michale Basquiat : Well, originally I wanted to copy the whole history down, but it was too tedious so I just stuck to the cast of characters.
So they’re kinds of indexes to encyclopedias that don’t exist.
I just like the names.
What is your subject matter?
(pause) Royalty, heroism, and the streets.
But your picture of the streets is improved by the fact that you’ve improved the streets.
I think I have to give that crown to Keith Haring. I haven’t workes in the streets in so long.
How about the transmition from SAMO back to Jean Michael, was that growing up?
SAMO i did with a high school friend, I just didn’t want to keep the name.
But it become yours…
It was kind of like…I was sort of the architect of it. And there were technicians who worked with me.
Do you like showing in Europe and the whole enterprise of having a dealer invite you, going over and looking at the show…
Usually, I just have to go myself and I have to pay my own ticket because I don’t know how to ask diplomatically…
You are a bit abrupt.
And then I usually want to go with friends so I have to pay for them as well.
So you end up not making very much money out of your show.
Do you like the idea of being where the paintings are?
Usually I have to check up on these dealers and make sure they’re showing the right work. Or just make sure that it’s right.
I like the drawings that are just lists of things
I was making one in an airplane once. I was copying some stuff out of a Roman sculpture book. This lady said, “Oh, what are you studying”. I said, “It’s a drawing.”
I think “what are you studying” is a very good question to ask–because your work does reflect an interest in all kinds of intellectual areas that go beyond the streets, and it’s the combimation of the two.
It’s more of name-drooping thing.
It’s better than that. ou could say that about Twombly, and yet some how he drops the name from within. Whit your work it isn’t just a causal list. It has some internal cohesion with what you are.
My favorite Twombly is “Apollo and the Artist”, with the big “Apollo” written across it.
When I first met you, you were part of the club scene…The Mudd Club.
Yeah, I went there every night for two years. At that time I had no apartment, so I just used to go there to see what my prospects were.
You used it like a bulletin board.
More like an answering service.
You got rid of your telephone a while ago. Was that satisfying?
Pretty much. Now I get all these telegrams. It’s fun. You never know what it could be. “You’re drafted,” “I have $2,000 for you.” It could be anything. And because people are spending more money with telegrams they get right to the point. But now my bell rings at all hours of the night. I pretend I’m not home…
Do you want a house?
I haven’t decided what part of the world isn’t going to get blown-up so I don’t know where to put it.
So you do want to live…
Oh yeah, of course I want to live.
Do you want to live in the country or the city?
The country makes me more paranoid, you know ? I think the crazy people out there are a little erazier.
They are but they also leave you alone more.
I thought they’d be looking for you more, in the country. Like hunting, or something.
Have you ever slept in the country, over night?
When I said I was never gonna go home again. I headed to Harimman State Park with two valises full of canned food…
In the summer?
It was in the fall.
And you slept over night?
Yeah, two or three days.
Were you scared?
Not much. But yeah, in a way. You know, you see some guys with a big cooler full of beer. And it gets really dark in the woods, you don’t know where you are.
Do you like museums?
I think the Brooklyn is my favorite, but i never go much.
What did you draw as a kid, usual stuff?
I was really lousy artist. Too abstact expressionist; or I’d draw a big ram’s head, really messy. I’d never win painting countests. I remember losing to a guy who did a perfect spiderman.
But where you satisfied with your own work?
No, no it all, I really wanted to be the best artist in the class, but my work had a really ugly edge to it.
Was it anger?
There was a lot of ugly stuff going on at the time in my family.
Is there anger in your work now?
It’s about 80% anger.
But there’s also humor.
People laugh when you fall on your ass. What’s humor?
The Estate of Henry Geldzahler, in Interview, New Yorke, January 1983. Courtesy Interview magazine, Brant Publications, Inc.