During his career, Brooklyn-born artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 – 1988) filled numerous notebooks with poetry fragments, wordplay, sketches, and personal observations ranging from street life and popular culture to themes of race, class, and world history. The first major exhibition of these notebooks, now on view at the Brooklyn Museum, features 160 pages of rarely seen documents, along with related works on paper and large-scale paintings.
A self-taught artist with encyclopedic and cross-cultural interests, Basquiat was influenced by comics, advertising, children’s sketches, Pop art, hip-hop, politics, and everyday life. Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks emphasizes the distinct interplay of text and images in Basquiat’s art, providing unprecedented insight into the importance of writing in the artist’s process.
The notebook pages on display contain early renderings of iconic imagery — tepees, crowns, skeleton-like figures, and grimacing faces — that also appear throughout his large-scale works, as well as an early drawing related to his series of works titled Famous Negro Athletes.
Highlighting the contributions of African Americans and exposing the racism embedded in America culture were ongoing concerns for Basquiat. He developed the subject of “Famous Negro Athletes” early on, and continued to depict baseball players and boxers throughout his career; many of these works are generalized portraits, and some represent specific individuals. In the above drawing from 1981, four black faces, loosely sketched and grimacing with gritted teeth, appear above a baseball and the title text.
Here are a few of our favorite pieces from the show!
The exhibit features two of these “sandwich board” paintings, where each side of the board reveals a slight modification on the theme.
Famous (Above and Below)
Untitled (Crayon Drawings, 1981)
Anti-Baseball Card Product (1979)
Part of a series of collages alluding to commercial baseball trading cards, Anti-Baseball Card Product includes a photo-booth image of Basquiat and his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Stein. A PEZ candy wrapper, cut up and and reconfigured, shows Basquiat’s early interest in inverting text and experimenting with language as a visual element.
Before becoming an active studio artist, Basquiat made small collages from from photographs, bar codes, advertisements, fingerprints, discarded packaging and other found materials. He photographed these collages and sold them as postcards on the streets of Lower Manhattan.
This exhibit is enthusiastically recommended for both Basquiat completists and neophytes alike!
Basquiat, The Unknown Notebooks will be on Exhibit Through August 23rd, 2015 at at the Brooklyn Museum, located at 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York 11238-6052. Take the 2 or 3 Train to Eastern Parkway/ Brooklyn Museum.