Exhibitions: Basquiat

Basquiat started his career as a graffiti writer, signing his work SAMO© (for "same old, same old" or "same old shit"). But while his contemporaries sprayed colorful pictorial symbols and tags all over New York, the teenaged Basquiat addressed the public in enigmatic sentences sprayed in a plain script, such as "SAMO© AS AN END TO MINDWASH RELIGION, NOWHERE POLITICS, AND BOGUS PHILOSOPHY" and "PLUSH SAFE HE THINK / SAMO©." As a professional visual artist, Basquiat made language an increasingly important feature of his work. In some cases, words fill the entire canvas, leaving no room for images.

Basquiat used words to elaborate his themes, adding layers of verbal complication to his pictorial ideas. Sometimes, following a Surrealist or stream-of-consciousness technique, he built up running lists or diagrams of related thoughts. Often, he repeated the same words over and over again, achieving an almost hypnotic effect.

Basquiat's words also serve a more strictly compositional function, playing a key role in the graphic construction of a painting. He was not the only artist using words in paintings during the 1980s, but he was perhaps the most successful at integrating text and picture into a dynamic whole. In Basquiat's works, there is an especially harmonious affinity among written, drawn, and painted marks that have all clearly been made by the same hand.

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