Art Stroll: Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks


My friend Karen and I went on an art stroll recently and checked out the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Rene Ricard, an American poet, art critic and painter once said: “If Cy Twombly and Jean Debuffet had a baby and gave it up for adoption it would be Jean-Michel. The elegance of Cy Twombly is there …and so is the brut of the young Debuffet”. I can see that – and I am drawn to all three of those artists.


Basqiuat stated once that he uses words like brushstrokes. They are visual key elements of his artwork. He explored strategies such as inverted spelling, crossing out certain words and the repetition of text in his notebooks, which were the highlight of this exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.


Basquiat used words not only for their descriptive quality – he would also use them for their lyrical qualities.


He emphasized repeating words and letters for their sounds and meaning.


Basquiat produced a huge number of notebooks. Some of the pages only contain one sentence or word and he generally left the opposite side of each page blank.



One of the things Basquiat said about his own artwork stuck to me the most: “I cross out words so you will see them more. The fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.”




I also loved is use of collage elements and mark making.



His works are often fragments of overheard conversations or isolated phrases – like the one below. Used in different contexts these conversation pieces or phrases can activate a wide and complex range of possible narratives – how intriguing.


The work shown in the exhibition wasn’t his most colorful work – which I am usually more drawn too but the pages with words and little scribbles and drawings used for the background were so compelling and interesting, I couldn’t stop looking at them.


I felt very inspired by this exhibition and will show you soon how I translated some of this inspiration into my own work.


By the way, if you like Jean-Michel Basquiat and haven’t seen the Movie “Radiant Child” yet – I highly recommend it. It is a wonderful homage to Basquiat and also a great document of the 80s New York City art scene.

Do you keep a notebook where you jot down ideas for your art work? For me my notebook is my art journal as this is where ideas are tested out and noted ready to maybe taken out for bigger surfaces later.

Hope you enjoyed this art stroll!


Comments (1)

  • Sue Clarke


    So true about wanting to read the crossed out words.
    The page with “sometime” on it really struck me for some reason. Maybe I saw it as a prompt to certain thoughts.
    I have several notebooks which contain words that I consider noteworthy (one for quotes that I like and one that I carry in my purse to jot down ideas or thoughts that I want to capture).
    Hope you have a nice Labor Day weekend Nat!


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