VIDEO 4 – 2018 – Vera’s Dispatches from the Art Studio – My highlights of my visit to the Basquiat Exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London
Below is a blog that is based on my vlog about my visit to the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London. Please note, I’ve edited this blog from the original video version for clarity and brevity :-) To see the full video go here for Facebook and here for YouTube.
Hi everyone! Welcome, I’m Vera! I am a London-based, nature-inspired abstract artist. Welcome to my weekly video series “Dispatches from the Art studio” where I share with you a little bit about me, my work, and my influences and inspirations. This week, I’m here at the Barbican Centre in central London. You can probably see a little bit of the architecture behind me. I wanted to catch the Basquiat exhibition as it’s the last week to see it. I’ve been meaning to catch the exhibition for months, and suddenly I woke up and I realized that it’s the last week to do so. As it’s London, the Barbican Centre was sold out of normal tickets. The trick was to become a member of the Barbican, so I could go in and see the exhibition.
If you’ve never been to the Barbican, it’s quite an impressive structure. It has this brutalist architecture that is striking. The gallery space within the Barbican Centre is quite a large space, particularly compared to some of the other London spaces. I have to say, I was very impressed with the Basquiat exhibition. There’s a lot of hype around Basquiat and this particular exhibition. There’s been a lot of build-up about the exhibition being sold out, and with that amount of hype, you’re always worried that you’ll be disappointed. But it was fantastic to see so many aspects of Basquiat’s work and his personality that maybe didn’t come across in other ways (through other exhibitions and film documentaries).
One of the highlights for me was to learn that Basquait was so multitalented. He wasn’t just a visual artist. He was a writer, he had loads of interest including music, fashion, film, and books… and a lot of those interests made their way into his work in a very fundamental way. For example, his musician friends were the subjects of his portraits. A lot of his work incorporated words and specific phrases, nodding to his interest in books and writing. I found the idea that you’re more than just one interest and all those interests can combine into your work very powerful.
The other aspect of the exhibition that you notice as soon as you walk in is the sheer scale of his artworks. A lot of his work has an undeniable physical presence. He worked on huge canvases with very bold colours and really strong images. Very graphic delineated images. There are a lot of words – some that are crossed out and some that are not. His work is very statement striking artwork and I think part of that striking effect has to do with the fact that he used scale to his advantage. Scale in the sense of literally the size of his artwork – the bigger the better.
The other element that makes his artwork so striking is his use of colour. A lot of Basquait’s work deals with difficult subjects - it deals with racism, dark colonial past and history. It is very raw, emotional, probing, and provoking. Certainly not “happy” or “easy” topics to deal with. His work contained much anger and questioning about the status quo. And yet, even though his work is quite serious and political, his work is still very colourful and very beautiful from a purely compositional perspective. If you go to the exhibition, you’ll see a lot of the colours he uses are really vibrant yellows, very pretty pinks, gorgeous turquoises, really rich blues… it’s not just an angry colourless colour palette. Actually, that juxtaposition of really strong statements on a difficult subject matter in combination with really bold colours means that the final artwork has a longevity that it might not otherwise. I think that’s one of the things about art, and definitely a lesson for me that for art to work for a long time, it needs to work in different ways. It’s not just about what it’s saying, what’s the statement, or what’s the technique… it needs to include all that and still have some sort of aesthetic value. At least I think it does.
The other aspect of his work that I found interesting is that he was hyper aware of his image as a visual artist and how he represented himself. Whether it’s on camera or photographs, or film, he was very aware of how he came across. He cultivated his persona as an artist. Particularly when he met Andy Warhol and started doing some collaborations with him, those interactions amplified that tendency. This awareness is something we can all relate to particularly in the modern world of social media.
The other particularly interesting element about Basquait’s persona as an artist his ongoing struggle about how he defined himself. I suppose a lot of people have that struggle with how they define themselves. Basquait was a certain race, a certain gender, a certain age, and a certain background. All those characteristics clearly influenced him as a person and his work. Yet, they are not the only defining characteristics of his work. His work is much more than that. I’m sure that when other people in the art world tried to box him in and say that he was just a “black artist creating black art” (whatever that means), he fought against that. I think that struggle and fight is something that we can all relate to. There are aspects of you as a person, your background, your work, which clearly inform who you are, and clearly inform your work… but there is an ongoing challenge to remind yourself and the other world that you’re much more than these collections of words and your background.
For me, the Basquait art exhibition was particularly inspirational. The element that I really took away from it most is the use of strong colour. And a reminder to myself that artwork has to work in multiple ways. It’s not just about the message, it’s not just about the meaning… it has to be a full complex picture with various elements including purely aesthetic considerations. That’s what gives it longevity. And also this idea that you can incorporate different influences and interests into your work.
And the last highlight of the exhibition, which I really liked is that it showed another side to Basquiat. In many other documentaries, and articles and photos, he is often portrayed as brooding character who had many challenges. He dealt with poverty when he was just starting out and struggled with drugs. And yet, the exhibition shows some interviews and some film excerpts from him in his art studio, which show him laughing and dancing. They show that he a joyful person. He was a person who liked to laugh… Who loved life. He wasn’t just this dark depressed figure. He was a joyful person who wanted to enjoy his life. That’s important to remember, even though his life was cut short in such a dramatic way.
So that’s it from me for this week. Thank you so much for joining me as part of my video series. I hope you’re enjoying them so far. Whether I see you in real life at the Wimbledon Art Studios or any of the other art events I do, or on social media, I hope to see you very soon. Thanks again for taking a few moments with me and I’ll see you next week.