Please prepare a short presentation on an artwork or project that has relevance to your research; choose a work that you feel has parallels in terms of process, material, techniques, approach, ideas, intentions using one word from each set of words. ML

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Whilst looking into the work of Joseph Grigley I was struck by the very different approaches to sharing a biographical documentary. Grigley’s work was structured and rigid, an annotated account presented logically on neatly ordered sheets of paper. Researching him online brought up a yang to his yin in Jean-Michael Basquiat through the emergence of text as defacto in a Conceptual Art market-place which has evolved with each new decade since the 60’s alongside the dematerialisation of the object as art. (Lippard, 1997)

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Since the introduction of text as practice, visual artists have found ways to use language as intrinsic to their practices. The manner of its inclusion and impact defined by the influence of new technology and a push for change outside the establishment. From the anonymity of a street artist through to the acceptance by the Cannon Basquiat choreographed a rise to superstar status using his art-work as a structure to both protect and project his persona:

As an introduction to his thinking what could be more descriptive of his practice than his prodigious use of private sketchbooks to notate thoughts and associated iconography.

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The exhibition “The Unknown Notebooks” was on show at The Brooklyn Museum in NYC in 2015. The materiality of his works is conveyed through his observational texts as much as through his naïve approach to drawing.

Using the everyday references of life in a modern America he incorporates elements of his Afro/Caribbean heritage, but I also take from the works a comment on his present-day social and cultural situation as a child of Puerto Rican and Haitian parents. Although with his growing commercial worth this social background story became woven not only into his artwork but also into his biography changing emphasis with the requirement of the interviewer.

Well placed as a guerrilla artist when East Village turned from bust to a booming arts centre in the early 80’s, he took the advantage when ‘discovered’.  Whatever path his journey to acclaim took he remains, through his short career, true to his work and to his practice.

His public persona playing down the fact that he was highly educated and had a broad introduction to the arts and sciences from a childhood spent in museums and art Galleries that he was highly intelligent. Emphasising instead that he was not a conformist he chose to project a script to reflect a streetwise image of himself.

His body of work draws his audience into a duality. It is difficult to separate the work from the artist’s projected persona because the work so fully embodies this projection. The work was a mouthpiece for a youth who preferred his art to speak for a particular him.

Perhaps a conceptual chiasmus? His text reflecting a structured mind against a chaotic exposition in his figurative works. To me, they represent a thinking man who created an artist at a time when the art market was hungry for a rebel.



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“Art is consumed in a state of concentration. That is, you give yourself over to it in a conscious decision to contemplate it”.  Attributed to Sir Walter Benjamin

It is interesting to examine Basquiat’s work closely as, specifically, it embodies a dialogue which conveys Basquiat’s experience of his practice. Examining his artworks, we can observe the strategic deployment of masking and layering in the production of his large canvasses and works on paper.  Seemingly playful his figurative approach could be enjoyed for their pure energy on a literal level. However, a deeper reflection on the iconography he deploys makes a connection to his political and cultural values and acts as a mouthpiece in a direct way.

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The simplicity of the obscure and enigmatic annotations in black marker pen could draw the reader in, inviting them to consider the scale of his work both as a topical commentary and a perceptual experience which brings the viewer into close proximity in order to read the texts. Thus the presence of the painting draws on the base and immediate presence of the artists’ involvement in creating the works through its scale and textural qualities.

Challenging preconceptions in an ongoing biographical narrative projecting the scripts which have a relevance to the artist Basquiat is open to alternative interpretations by an audience whilst, in truth, the imagery creates a personal narrative of the people he met and friendships he forged during his career and also refer to his childhood.

Repeatedly we see references to his heritage which draw strongly on a catholic imagery of The Central and Southern Americas. The familiar objects we associate with a cultural heritage in the skulls and sightless creatures make a direct connection to the viewer as both descriptive of objectified quasi-religious symbols and guardians of a deeper connection to texts which carry in some form the artists intention.

Through his reference to favourite texts and his word associations, you can access his sense of humour which invites you to share his sense of fun as you study his works. The sense of fun and energy in his application and the styling remind me of Paula Rego’s political works which were being produced at the same time and whose work has been particularly relevant to my own practice. And now I add JM Basquiat’s energetic commentary to my list of influencers.

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