Before Jean-Michel Basquiat became one of the top art stars of the 1980s, he was a Brooklyn boy thriving in the downtown New York art and music scene in the late 1970s.
“They all lived together, musicians and artists,” says Ed Patuto, the producer of Decorated time: the musical influences of Jean-Michel Basquiat, three short films that explore the artist’s relationship with bebop, no wave and hip-hop. “You would go to a gallery, you would see an exhibition, you would end up in [legendary East Village club] the piramid. Moving between platforms and genres was what people did. “
Time Decorated takes a journey through Basquiat’s musical influences and adventures, from hip-hop to jazz and vice versa. All three films are directed by rapper, musician and producer Terrace Martin, the Afro-Punk director James Spooner and Dr. Todd Boyd, professor at the USC School of Motion Picture Arts.
“It’s hard to look at a Basquiat painting and not accept his musical influences,” says Patuto, who is also the director of audience engagement at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles.
The series was produced amid the pandemic as a way for the Broad Museum, which has one of the largest public collections of Basquiat art in the United States, to share with the public online. The founders of The Broad, businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad, who died in May, and his wife, art collector and philanthropist Edythe, began collecting Basquiat in the 1980s, buying the first works for as little as $ 5,000. well below the artist’s auction record of $ 110 million in 2017.
By Broad’s fifth anniversary last fall, the museum had planned to display all 13 paintings together for the first time, but pandemic closures, which lasted more than a year at museums in Los Angeles, intervened. The paintings hung in an empty gallery for months, waiting for a signal from state and local officials to allow visitors to return. The Broad finally opened its doors last month.
From jazz to no wave and hip-hop
In the late 70s and early 80s, Basquiat frequented New York venues like the Mudd Club, where punk, no wave, avant-garde experimental music, and hip-hop mixed to create new hybrid forms. No wave itself is hard to define, an abrasive and confrontational genre, whose musicians had little in common except their rejection of the status quo. Neither wave was “deliberately inaccessible for general consumption,” Spooner explains in the second film.
Basquiat formed his own waveless band, Gray, which took its name from the Grey’s Anatomy book, which he had been gifted while recovering from a childhood accident, and remained a lifelong influence. Spooner makes a direct connection between the volatility of music and Basquiat’s turbulent canvases full of gestural brushstrokes, anguished figures and crossed out words. “Basquiat’s art looks like no wave sounds: a raw inexperienced expression,” he says.
Basquiat also had roots in New York’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, from his early graffiti with Al Diaz collaborating under the name SAMO (Same Old Shit), to designing and producing his manga for Beat Bop, a single. 1983 by Rammellzee and K. -Robar. (In 1981, he also appeared as a DJ on Blondie’s Rapture, the first music video featuring a rap to appear on MTV.)
In the third film, Dr. Todd Boyd compares Basquiat’s use of text to the way a DJ scratches a record, using previously recorded material to create a new sound. “When I see Basquiat crossing out text, crossing out words, for me it has often implied something like scratching,” he explains, “particularly what this means in terms of early hip-hop, this concept of remix manifests itself quite strongly when one looks with how often Basquiat would use this device. “
If hip-hop and no wave were Basquiat’s musical styles, jazz and bebop were his historical touchstones. Standing in front of Basquiat’s 1983 painting Horn Players, depicting bebop legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Terrace Martin describes the affinities between Basquiat and jazz icons. “One of his [Parker’s] The whole point of ushering in this new wave of bebop was to end the whole ‘you have to entertain me, you’re a black jazz musician’ thing, ”says Martin. “Basquiat was always aware of the racist ways in which he was pigeonholed, so he found many parallels between his treatment as an artist and that of his jazz heroes.”
Against the backdrop of a largely white art world, Basquiat looked at other black creatives who had forged their own paths in similar circumstances. Dr. Boyd connects the recurring image of the crown in Basquiat’s paintings, seen in With Strings Two (1983) in the Broad Collection, with the jazz and hip-hop artists who gave themselves royal aliases. From Count Basie and Duke Ellington, to Run-DMC’s King of Rock, black artists have often been awarded honors denied by the white cultural mainstream. (Despite Basquiat’s commercial success, Martin notes, he was fired by several critics, including Hilton Kramer who, in 1997, described Basquiat as “a talentless con artist, street smart but otherwise invincible ignorant, who used his youth, his looks, his skin color and his abundant sex appeal ”to gain fame).
In the third film, Dr. Boyd links the seemingly chaotic and confrontational style of Basquiat’s paintings with the layered and intricate production of hip-hop producers like Bomb Squad, who created the signature Public Enemy sound. “The music doesn’t necessarily reach the listener. The listener, if the listener is to understand, is expected to approach the music. “
Similarly, he notes, “you can’t view Basquiat’s work passively, it requires you to actively engage with the material.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism