Basquiat at The Barbican

Basquiat Barbican

One of my goals this year is to try and go to one cultural event each week, whether it be the cinema, theatre, talk or exhibition.  I’m so lucky to be near London so its easy for me to get into town and visit different locations.

Before Christmas, I noticed that the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican was due to close in a few weeks so I made sure to snap up a ticket for the last week of the exhibition in January.

I must admit I didn’t know a lot about Basquiat so I was hoping to learn something new, I was tempted to do the whole google and wiki learning before the exhibition but I held off as I always felt that a really comprehensive exhibition should be able to tell you about an artist as well as their work on show.  I’m glad I did as I learnt a lot!

Before going, my main take away from Basquiat was that he was a young, black street artist in New York who became the toast of the town with some connection to Andy Warhol and David Bowie. I also knew that Matt Dillon has some of his artwork in his own personal art collection and that he seems to be an influence on Matt’s own artwork so I was intrigued to see Basquiat’s art up close.

The Barbican is such an unusual venue, housed in a Brutal estate in the City of London, its stark concrete houses a hot house of greenery inside as well as exhibition space, gallery and a theatre.

Basquiat Barbican

What’s great about the Barbican exhibition space is that the floor has all these little rooms off a walkway mezzanine so they were able to do themed rooms for different areas of his life, displaying artworks, printed materials like magazine articles (one profile of Basquiat was written by David Bowie himself!), postcards on tables within the rooms, leading back down to his larger artworks and his own reference items on the main floor. Exhibition guides advised us on where to start as we headed up the stairs armed with a map in our mini exhibition guide which detailed which artworks were in each rooms, along with Basquiat’s story.

Basquiat Barbican

My first impressions were energetic colour that draws you in and that Basquiat himself was cute. Shallow I know, but he seemed to have this energy that radiated off him in photos.

Basquiat Barbican

You first head to a room where you learn about how Jean-Michel Basquiat started as a street artist with a friend under the name, SAMO – Same old shit, and they quickly caught the attention of the NYC art press with their brilliantly poetic, witty and barbed tags across NYC. For instance, photographed on a wall outside famous NYC punk store, Trash and Vaudeville, they wrote”SAMO as an end to vinyl punkery” which made me laugh!  I love the distinctive way they wrote the E’s. Love that someone took the time and effort to photograph all the SAMO art they could find around the city, as who would even remember them if they hadn’t photographed them at the time? Really brings home how ephemeral and fleeting the nature of street art can be.

Basquiat Barbican

This developed into selling photocopied collaged and painted postcards, often being chased away from selling outside the Guggenheim museum even though he was able to sell one postcard to Warhol which he was ecstatic about.

As the art world took notice, he very quickly was able to put an exhibition together and they replicated that very first exhibition in one room, with his famous UNTITLED portrait series.

Basquiat Barbican

Other rooms focused on the art life in NYC fused with the emerging club life, with a wall of Polaroids from nights out as well as collaborations with friends. Jean-Michel would DJ at club nights and mingle almongst the up and coming people including Debbie Harry and Grace Jones. Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel became close friends, and collaborated on a few artworks, went on trips to support other artist friends in Europe and supported each others work. I assumed he was gay but he seemed to have various girlfriends who he went on trips with.

Basquiat postcard to Andy Warhol

Sharing a studio with friends led to artwork everywhere, all over the floor, that people would step over,  including a whole fridge that was just tagged all over, even with some Flintstones and Jetsons drawings!

Basquiat Barbican

What I found compelling about Basquiat apart from his sense of humour that came through his art,  was that he couldn’t work in silence, he’d have a radio or music on his boombox or have his television on in the background.

“I’m usually in front of the television. I have to have some source material around me to work off.”

.Surprisingly for a very early 80s guy, he’d already accumulated over 1000 video tapes (including David Lynch’s work!) and a tape player at a time when these were not cheap at all! He seemingly loved to consume everything that caught his interest and put it all together on canvas in his own way. He notably saw Apocalypse Now ten times in one week at the cinema! Sounds like my kinda guy..In all seriousness, I love how he took in everything he enjoyed and put it all together to make artworks based on his self identity, including his famous self portraits .

On the lower level of the exhibition, they showed his own reference library of books with topics like symbols, or African art history, everything that he was intersted in and when you saw those aspects of his education, you can read more into his own work where these motifs repeated. His work may seem primitive or childish at first glance, but actually they can emulate a lot of African folk art and it gives such a deeper meaning to his own artwork. I loved that his mother, Mathilde, took him to lots of exhibitions and museums as a child, he obviously soaked a lot up as he famously said, “I never went to art school. I just looked…” and had various Old Art masters books in his own library. He had a fun artwork with a Young Picasso and old Picasso together which really tickled me, a lot of joy comes out in his artwork, especially with his vivid use of colour and textures.

One of my favourite pieces that was so striking was a very simple, stark self portrait in silhouette.  Lacking the colour of his famous pieces, I found it so compelling and almost emotional to look at?  Plus the imposing frame it was in, housed on a black wall really drew your eye to the image.

Photo credited to Camille Watercolours at her own blog here 

What I love about art is that it is literally so visual and accessible as a deaf viewer, there was a lot to take in. There were a few videos in various rooms, there was one I really wanted to watch that had interviews with Andy and Jean-Michel together and it was lovely seeing them talking together. I wish I’d known what they said but there were only two headphone sets and the exhibition guide in the room said there were transcripts available downstairs but as I went around the rest of the exhibition, I’d forgotten about them. I wish the Barbican had thought to subtitle those videos, because then ten or more people standing around watching one video would gain more insight into what they were saying in a two minute video, rather than just waiting for two people to stop listening and pass the headphones over.

Basquiat Barbican

The gift shop was fantastic with a range of books and artworks replicated on postcards, tote bags, shirts, magnets and even a fancy silk scarf! I picked up an enamel pin of Basquiat’s trademark scribbled crown.  I wish I’d bought the exhibition catalogue but I couldn’t justify it at the time and feel like the exhibition was a full on immersion of his artwork, enough to tide me over.

Basquiat Barbican

Kudos to the Barbican for putting together such a comprehensive and full exhibition with so many different artworks and paraphernalia from Basquiat’s life and career, as well as his life with his friends.  I’m really glad I managed to get a ticket to go!

Basquiat Barbican

Leaving the exhibition, I found a Banksy piece that referenced both Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. outside the Barbican’s famous tunnel walkway. So fitting for a street artist himself to make this tribute!

Basquiat Barbican

I loved that Keith Haring was a contemporary of his and a friend. I knew Keith Haring’s name and artwork growing up so I was quite surprised that I hadn’t learnt more about Basquiat in the past, but it seemed he shone brightly but for a limited time due to his drug addiction that sadly claimed his life in 1988.

A few days after the exhibition, I stumbled across a new series on Sky, called AUCTION, showcasing modern and contemporary art auctions at Sothebys and Christies. In the very first episode, Sotheby’s auction off an Untitled 1982 piece from Basqiaut, a lovely large colourful piece, an art consultant says how he looked at it in person for so long, he felt like he left with “his eyes bleeding”. Gasps of disbelief rippled through the auction room as bidding opens at 57 million dollars. These auction audiences are not newbies, many of them would be seasoned veterans of the auction world as collectors, buyers and sellers alike.  The audience’s phones were out to capture the last bid as the Basquiat Untitled 1982 went to a Japanese bidder, for 98 million. Ooof, imagine the commision fees on top!   ….. I checked….. $110.5 million all in total. Wow.

It had originally been bought by a collector in 1984 for $19,000. No wonder people go into art for investment purposes!

It was quite emotional after having seen the depth and range of his artwork on exhibition, to see a piece be sold off and for so high. I hope the buyer displays it proudly somewhere for people to see and I wonder how Basqiuat  himself would have reacted?

Basquiat Barbican

Things are getting Stranger… Topshop x Stranger Things

A week before the second season of Stranger Things started airing on Netflix, we noticed strange things occurring around Oxford Circus, well, stranger than usual! Bunch of mouthbreathers…..

Stranger Things x Topshop

Topshop’s flagship store in Oxford Circus was turned into a fun portal to Hawkins, Indiana as they installed a Hawkins Arcade, Castle Byers, a peek inside Joyce’s living room and viewing the inside of the Hawkins National Laboratory, where you could test your own telekinetic skills on a Coke can. Loved the bikes on top of Topshop’s entrance!

Stranger Things x Topshop

To publicise the breakout hit from Netflix’s new season, Topshop launched a range of licensed clothing and accessories, in collaboration with Stranger Things and Netflix.

Stranger Things x Topshop

Topshop gave out stickers, keyrings, tote bags to buyers as well as opportunities to win signed shirts.  Fans also could enter to win tickets to an in-store screening of the first two episodes of Season 2 the night before they aired, hosted by Barb herself, Shannon Purser.

Stranger Things x Topshop

I went along on the first day they opened and marvelled at all the fun installations, talking to staff and seeing people’s excitement at the merchandise and the installations all around the shop.

Stranger Things x Topshop

I really enjoyed the  Hawkins High School character lockers, a fantastic bit of mini set design and kudos to whoever put them together!

Stranger Things x Topshop

Nancy’s locker

Stranger Things x Topshop

Aw, Barb and Nancy’s photos in Nancy’s locker.

Stranger Things x Topshop

Jonathan’s locker – loved the photography details!

Stranger Things x Topshop

My favourite interactive part was having a chance to play Pac-Man in the Hawkins Arcade alongside other arcade games, I made the most out of my tokens!

Stranger Things x Topshop

Stranger Things x Topshop

They had retro styled logo shirts, themed Funkopops, lunchboxes, backpacks and some great sweaters. I loved the artwork of the kids on their bikes but they only had it available as a t shirt in a Men’s sizing as the ladies section only had it as a sweater. I knew I wouldn’t wear it as much as a sweater so I picked out the fun retro Hawkins Power and Light shirt as well as a Hawkins Tigers logo shirt!

Stranger Things x Topshop

It didn’t stop there as the Underground turned into the Upside Down with artwork and posters all along Oxford Circus.

Stranger Things x Topshop

Stranger Things x Topshop

Stranger Things x Topshop

I love seeing fun publicity and marketing tie ins like these and they just help bring a show or film to life for fans who will enjoy it, share it and make it more effective as a campaign. As they had the Lab window to test the telekinetic skills, which was fun for people taking part and watching,

Stranger Things x Topshop

I kind of wished they’d had a photo opportunity in the living room with Joyce’s iconic christmas lights and maybe an axe?

Stranger Things x Topshop

Off to start Season 2, do you have a favourite character? I love Sheriff Hopper!

Scott and Olly’s great Silhouettes Showdown!

Oh, I love the Internet, just the fact that you can find, follow, support and interact with talented, creative people who do something you like!

My last Twin Peaks entry left me wondering what Scott Campbell was doing now and was ecstatic to find out he was doing a signing of Great Showdowns at Forbidden Planet the next week!
He wouldn’t be alone either as Olly Moss would be signing his new book too, Silhouettes of Popular Culture.

Just look at that amazing cover on Olly’s book

 and can you name all the movies on Scott’s?

I followed Olly Moss’s work ever since he did that amazing minimalist black and red movie graphic set on Flickr (how much do you love the Indiana Jones one, sigh), that infamous Spoilt shirt and he started doing posters in Empire magazine too.

I couldn’t turn that opportunity down to see the two of them in one place and especially when Scott C emailed to say he was bringing Twin Peaks prints to sell alongside signing his books, I just had to go!
The signing was only for an hour from 6-7pm so I was anxious that I may not get there in time as I finish work at 6.

Luckily Forbidden Planet is just down the road from the office and the queue was starting to wrap around the horror and supernatural romance shelves by the time I stepped down into the basement. So many lurid covers to giggle at.
As I peered around the people nearing the front, I could see the artists themselves taking their time to talk to people, drawing portraits in books, doodling and signing away and how did I never know that Scott C looked like Jason Sudeikis?! Um, helloooo.

I saw a girl in a West Ham scarf manning Scott’s portfolio as people flipped through. Alas I had no cash on me(self, stop doing that) but I was able to reserve the last print of Concentrating on the Js that Scott had in his portfolio, hooray! She kindly took it out and put it in an envelope for me to pick up after the book signing then I carried on waiting in the queue and flicking through the books.

As an 80s pop culture fan, these two books are a total delight, both very striking in their artwork and a real joy for anyone who is a fan of films and artwork. Olly’s book of silhouettes riffs on the art of profile silhouettes by showing the profiles of famous characters from films, television and video games. They are strikingly beautiful and it’s amazing how well Olly is able to get characters down to the bare details.

Great Scott! 
Where’s your brain?

Scott’s Great Showdowns has a more whimsical watercolour take on the showdowns that happen in our favourite films, all with smiley faces painted on.

I feel funky

The cheque’s in the mail!

Lots of people were there for Scott and Olly, I was also hoping that Kate Beaton may make an appearance and had brought her brilliant books, Hark! A Vagrant and Never Learn Anything From History.

I later stood off to the side to purchase my Twin Peaks piece  and saw Kate Beaton talking to Olly!

 I waited to be sure it was her, she introduced herself to someone as Kate and then I managed to catch her eye and ask if she would sign my books? She walked over and said hi as I took my books out, I had one of the original books of History and she was excited to see it, noting that it was one of the original runs and thanking me for taking care of it. We talked a little about history, comics and being in London and she drew a pair of my favourite characters of hers, The Mystery Solvin’ Teens!

Needless to say the signing completely overran and there were lots of happy people clutching their signed books. Thanks to Forbidden Planet for running it all smoothly and to Olly, Scott and Kate for their time and signing so many books and prints! I cannot wait to frame my Twin Peaks art, it is even more beautiful close up.

I popped into Forbidden Planet at lunchtime on Friday to get some more copies of the books as Christmas presents for friends, and was delighted to see a stack of signed Kate Beaton books for sale.
Here are a few of the characters she drew! I really do recommend her Hark A Vagrant book for fans of history and literature, they’re such fun to read.

I love the 80s Power Dressing Woman!

Do you have any favourite webcomics that you recommend?