Jean-Michel Basquiat Obnoxious Liberals 1982 acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas 68 x 102 in. The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection

“I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.”
– Jean-Michel Basquiat

(This little ramble is a knee-jerk inspiration from walking through the Basquiat exhibit and many other things that are percolating in my brain at the moment. I have no thesis. I have no conclusion. I don’t even think there’s an argument here, but I feel like I needed this out of me, right now. Not edited because I have a busy day ahead.)


My motto when I create anything is to create from experience or what fascinates me. I get obsessed with things easily and although that can be a strength for a nascency of truth, it can be detrimental to it. In scribing Ulysses, I’ve taken a couple of weeks hiatus. James Joyce is pissing me off right now due to a variety of reasons, one of them being his own obsessions with the world around him. I’ve focused so much on his work for the past few years, it’s taken me a lot of patience not to tear his books apart. They’re beautiful. They’re motivating. But as I’ve mentioned before, I can only take so much murmuring. Tonight, I will start new, just to finish the damn project. I saw the Basquiat exhibit at the AGO last night, so it got me thinking about the finished product.

This is where it gets me: the product. It’s one thing to see a work of art in a picture, or your schoolbooks, or on the internet; it’s quite another to be in the presence of it. I was a never huge fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat, but I knew of him because of the cultural impression he made in the world of popular art. I followed anything to do with Andy Warhol growing up, so my interest mainly lied around that component of it. It was only until later that I came to know more about his music and collaborative efforts. He was everywhere, but not really. Basquiat was like an infusion. Something we need so desperately right now.

Being immersed in his work, it brought tears to my eyes (ok, I’m extremely sensitive, but it takes a lot to move me that way). The work that provoked me so much was mounted on a little away from most of people’s periphery, but it stood out in its simplicity. It was a piece of foam, the kind you find inside of a discarded seat cushion, dirty and jagged in all the edges. Basquiat had painted a small stick figure car on it in his trademark style. The artist had a taken a piece of city, of the street, the places people forget, the objects people discard, the thrown away bones of the everyday, and made it his canvas. He appropriated this heavily manufactured, conveyor cookie-cutter item, and here it was accepted as world class art in a gallery. Most of his work with indelible shoe prints made many years ago.

Now, this isn’t new to me. I’ve seen collage before and continually expose myself to the vast spectrum in the art world. I have to. It’s where my head lies. But man, where’d the artist go? Where’d poet go? Where’d the creation of language go? It’s everywhere, but there’s no spontaneous infusion anymore. At least, that I can find and I’ve been searching, obsessed with the search, actually.

When I went to New York City for the first time, the thing that struck me was clean everything was. The dirty gritty realness I’d come to expect from films wasn’t a current reality, but I didn’t mind. It was just different. Since I go every year now, I still find the grittiness in other parts. I find the extemporaneous muck in explorations. I am stable when I’m comfortable, but I’m inspired and energized when I can see the forgotten filigree around me. I need to put my hands in it, my ears to it, smell it, just like my daughter does wherever she goes. She can’t sit still and observe. She must be a part of the setting around her. In essence, what I am saying, is that as artists we are way too comfortable today or rather, we are too happy with that comfort that we forget to deal with the reality. The reality is we have to afford to be artists….and why is that?

How much art school is in your art? How much emotion is in your art? How much logic is in your art? Most of all, how much of you and the world around you is in your creation? Does it even matter? Basquiat built his expressions through many conceits. He was politically, aesthetically, and emotionally charged individual. His brain took in so much and he internalized a big portion of that to be utilized entirely on his art or his obsessions. He appropriated, collaged, lyricized, painted over, destroyed, built up, and carved his expressions out of a true place inside of himself. I need to find that true place in myself.

It was hard having crowds voicing their opinions or perspectives out loud. Galleries can be pretty quiet normally, but last night was a little too much. I was happy, moving through the works, and I was misty eyed. It was embarrassing, but after a while it didn’t matter. The painting above said a lot of it for me. Basquiat sold his paintings to a very high art crowd, one he understood, but also one he had contempt for. He didn’t want to be a commodity. Yet at the end of the exhibit, among all the prints, there are Basquiat hats with his crown logo and pens. I bought a print of that painting above.

I don’t know. I just came out of there feeling like everything feels so manufactured. The music industry is set up like an assembly line.  Revolutions are now t-shirts. Wars are streamed. And although I love the anarchy of the internet avatar, I don’t want to imprison myself in it. I am Marshal McLuhan prophecy, but I am not his product either. Basquiat new the power of semiotics, and I guess, a writer, an artist, intrinsically learns, or knows how to convey to her peers and the people of her time. I think we need to tear down the modern day lexicon, there’s so much of it. We need to stop being afraid of being uncomfortable. We need to start pissing ourselves off.

I wrote this status the other day:

I do enjoy this. I’d like to see how it’s changing anything though. I don’t entirely agree with it, but I want to know more and where it’s coming from and why.
The revolution isn’t in manifestos though. And although my brain still parses a lot of the ‪#‎conceptualism‬ aesthetic, because I’m still working through it, I’d like to see ‪#‎poetry‬ / ‪#‎art‬ rebuttals as opposed to just blah blah blah. Give me something to look at, to percolate, to create in my brain. You know, use your art that provokes to move and start something. I’m so bored and tired of the manifesto/let’s label ourselves a revolution culture. You are not my revolution. I am my own manifesto. /end kind of a rant
Had a bit of a rendering on twitter last night, so I woke up thinking about it.
(I also love Poetry Foundation’s openness to discussing this stuff.)

It was about this:

It came to mind when two quotes by very talented white artists were mostly about how jealous they were of Basquiat. They didn’t explain why, but there you go.

I’m very politicized at the moment. These past few years have seen a reemergence of the feminist in me, acknowledging my privilege as a mixed second generation Latina in Canada. I work with re-appropriating a lot of white men’s work (ie. James Joyce and I believe you can call The Wall Street Journal, a rich white man’s work too). I read women’s work every day as a film reviewer and book critic. I do my best to try to expose the unknown female artists out there. We all need to help each other to make this world equal. I have discussions with my son about feminism and activism. I try to make my work, my life, part of the artistic infusion.

You don’t sit back and wait for the world. You make the world. You experience it. You carve into it, paint on it, collage it, appropriate it, and make it part of the lexicon you use to impart your truths.

And I said I was tired of manifesto culture.

NO, I am against definitions because language is organic being, ever evolving, and breathing. If I want something new, if I want new infusions in my life, in my art, I have to be fearless from the get go. Guts are truth. Guts are not self-conscious. Guts are not self aware. Guts are heavily inside themselves and digest to yield and nourish.

Why do we care so much, but actually care for so little?

I will be going back a few times to the exhibit and probably pick up a biography or a movie in conjunction. I need more. I need to learn. I need to provoke myself.

Ok, gotta go.


Basquiat, part of the SAMO© project, photo by Henry Flynt, 1979


“1982 by James Van Der Zee. Estate of James Van Der Zee”


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