After paying out for the initial entry to an exhibition I can never justify the additional cost of an audio guide, however much I know that it'll benefit the experience. But luckily and uniquely the Basquiat show at The Barbican has no need for such extra premium insight as everything has conscientiously been included within the show. Every item of in the retrospective of his life's work has a complimentary description, decoding the origin and possible references. This meant that I happily spent two hours around the two floors without notion of time passing. I didn't event stop to watch film clips, my focus was reading annotations and peering into the paint. It's an incredible collection, all pulled together from so many different places and personal collections. There's the famous block-buster canvases and then rarer ephemera treasured from friends and poignant moments in time. Postcards, letters, sketches, matchboxes, books, xerox, a baseball helmet, a vase and even a fridge all tagged with graffiti or doused in oil paint and pigment.It seems completely inexplicable that he achieved so much in his 9 year career especially as he seemed to enjoy the social scene of his New York network too. He was discovered at a party and continued to form working relationships and collaborations with friends made whilst out and about but yet he was prolific in turning out both quality and quantity in work. This is highlighted in a self-portrait that he made of himself with Andy Warhol after a photoshoot with the artist which he delivered back to him a couple of hours later with the canvas still wet.
Each chapter from his journey is catalogued in a timeline of rooms within the Barbican Gallery. Therefore you can see the ascension from street artist SAMO to international superstar of the downtown art scene. Along the ride he plays in a band, produces a record, acts in a film, has numerous romantic attachments and manages to cut and grow his afro into multiple styles from Mohawk to twists to his iconic locks which inspired the future genre "Funki Dred". It's fair to say that his personal image was just as powerful, impactful and alluring as his work. So why is it that such a profitable artist in today's market and who had an equally public profile in his own lifetime is still relatively void in the mainstream's knowledge of art history? His paintings are amongst the highest sellers at auction and his raw talent equal to that of any other household name artist. That is why the Barbican's show is really, really important in positioning his legacy in the mindframe of the masses as a genius mark-maker, not just a Uniqlo T-Shirt.
The one emblem we probably all know him for and attribute to his name is his signature logo of the illustrated crown. But what we might not realise is that it came about from his trips to the MET Museum admiring the Baroque Caravaggio religious scenes. Or that the stick-man style can be attributed to his research into Egyptian Hieroglyphics and the symbols of "Hobo" signs. Infact his preoccupation for body representation (and possible fascination with Caravaggio's anatomical realism) came from a childhood influence of being given Gray's Anatomy by his mum when he was in hospital recovering from an accident. Which brings us to the subject of mortality and the undeniable unease and lingering questions within his narratives and obsessions. It's so bizarre and such a shame that his gift was so short lived but we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that he is just one of the special souls who stepped to the other side in the twenty-seven club.
Thanks to the Barbican for this epically brilliant show, I can only apologise for breaching the wishes of taking photos but I think it is for the greater good to share.
These images have been collated from four anonymous secret squirrels............... and my snaps of the two Banksy works on the outside walls of the Barbican Centre (see Mitchell for scale).