The total number of notebooks Basquiat created remains unknown, but the eight examples in the exhibition, produced between 1980 and around 1987, point to a consistent and deliberate practice that relates to the artist’s larger studio work in illuminating ways.
His choice of readily available composition books is in keeping with Basquiat’s interest in everyday objects. Even when he could have afforded more durable materials, he continued to use these inexpensive composition books, available at dime stores and corner delis. In composing the notebooks, Basquiat generally left the reverse side of each page blank. When bound, this page layout allowed the written page to function independently as a work of art.
Basquiat’s controlled penmanship and purposeful use of all capital letters give the notebook writings an ornamental appearance that sets them apart from mundane note taking or traditional sketches. While Basquiat’s notebooks often contain words and ideas also found in his larger works, the notebooks should be considered autonomous works exploring personal process rather than as preparatory studies for larger compositions.
To accompany Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, the High has gathered a group of Basquiat’s paintings on view on the Skyway Level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion. Nearly thirty years after his death, Jean-Michel Basquiat (born Brooklyn, 1960; died Manhattan, 1988) remains one of the most iconic and influential artists of his generation. Never formally trained in art, Basquiat began his career at age sixteen when he and his friend Al Diaz began spray-painting words and phrases under the pseudonym SAMO© in and around New York City.
Enigmatic and often amusing, the tone of Basquiat’s early graffiti work is reflected in this companion exhibition. The paintings on view address the artist’s biography and demonstrate his purposeful use of childlike imagery and unconventional, cast-off materials. Among these paintings is an important collaborative work with fellow artist and celebrity Andy Warhol. This jointly realized print and painting reflects Basquiat’s deep collaborative artistic practice and the importance of dialogue, whether between artists, cultures, or histories, that inform his work.