Monday, July 25, 2005
Basquiat Vs. My Thighs
I spend a lot of time thinking about my health. This time includes how food and how moving my culo affects every single aspect of my life; most importantly my mental well being. This year especially it all became so monumental – so important – to become the healthiest version of myself because I’m afraid of how loss of health will affect me as I age. I’m not quite ready to blame things on me getting older. “Can’t move around like I used to.” “Can’t touch my toes anymore.” “Can’t run without peeing my pants a little.” The slow deterioration scares the living shit out of me so I’ve decided to fight it.
So, yes, I think about this shit a lot and the only time I don’t is when I’m enveloped by art. When I read great writing, not once do I think about whether I’ve met my workout quota for the week. When I dance or see meaningful films, I’m not worried about the part of my outer thigh that curves out more than the rest of my leg; kinda like a “C”. And when I’m transfixed by paintings, I’m not counting one calorie. I am engrossed only by beauty.
I went to the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit at the MOCA Sunday. For a good 10 years, Basquiat has been one of my favorite, if not favorite, painters of all time. In my corporate cubicle I have kept a post-card size version of Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump (first painting shown) thumb-tacked to my wall for years. But to see that painting live -- to see it tower over my head and stretch wider than I had imagined; to see the texture of paint rise off the canvas in tiny waves, to see it so 3-D and so rich took my breath away. My favorite pieces of the exhibit were the huge paintings and these were really well displayed. The most congested room was that of his framed drawings where Basquiat scribbles his trade-mark written madness, and at the exhibit it was impossible to cram in with everyone and read every manic word. My personal theory on Basquiat is that a lot of the “poetic” pieces were farcical bullshit. That he purposefully wrote nonsensical crap to see how many he could sucker into thinking it was deep. I’m not saying everything he wrote is that. I think he rode a very fine line between irreverently sticking it to artistic snobs and plunging into the madness of his never-ending churning thought. With the help of some heavy drug use, this line probably became very hazy and wavy.
Basquiat, a half Haitian, half Puerto Rican Brooklynite, seemed drawn to being weird whether genuine or not. As a teen he lived a (rumored, self-induced) life of homelessness and fought off genetic tendencies of mental illness. He was a musician and graffiti poet but when he painted, his work catapulted him directly into the middle of 80’s pop culture. He was a near-instant painting superstar by his early 20’s. And though he seemed to desperately cling to the realness of his work – the work he HAD to paint -- I believe the only way he could not feel completely conquered by the intellectual elitism and underlying patronizing racism of the Art World was to give them the middle finger with some spoon-fed bullshit that was his “genius” scribble scrabble. I love him for that. But I love him most for the genuine madness that comes out in globs of fantastically-colored paint and creates primal and sophisticated and unique, often head-scratching, depictions of himself and other images that swirled around in his head. I looked at his huge work on Sunday, and I cocked my head and I was touched by the crazy beauty he couldn’t help but create. I haven’t thought of much else since. (Curved thigh “C”s and controlled portions can go fuck themselves right now.)