Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) was born in Brooklyn to American parents of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. Formally untrained in art, he is perhaps best known to the general public as graffiti artist SAMO (1977 through 1980). In a mere 8 years, he went from Brooklyn boy to one of the world’s most controversial and influential painters and somewhat of an international celebrity.
PaceWildenstein astutely places Dubuffet’s 1976–1979 paintings alongside Basquiat’s mixed media works dating from 1981–1983. During the late ’70s, Dubuffet painted Theaters of Memory, a series which explores sight and memory. The artist felt the viewer should not confuse what the eyes see with what happens when the mind apprehends it. The eyes see only what faces them, whereas the mind takes in all fields, converges them and even transforms them, he believed. The canvases are a barrage of images, daringly mingling figures with forms to produce forceful expressions, images and assertions.
Basquiat acknowledged Dubuffet’s influence to some extent as he struggled with the lack of black identity in art. His work is at once astonishingly powerful and loaded with colliding, primal forms. Figures appear to leap from the surface; symbols zip in and out with an explosion of pure energy. He builds the composition through a diverse network of forms. Every image and index is intertwined; reminiscent of a series of passing subway posters, the vibrant colors of the canvas come speeding out.
Both artists treat the automobile with respect. Dubuffet’s Voyage en auto, October 15, 1979 has a weary driver surrounded by a maze of color-clogged roadways. Basquiat, who himself was in an automobile accident, displays fear and trepidation from his delicately-hued autos in 1981’s Old Cars.
Both Basquiat and Dubuffet display tension and unison in their works; Basquiat often layered his works with isolated and dislocated texts, letters or codified marks that served to enrich the pictorial image as a whole. Dubuffet pitted figures against form in an ebb and flow of harmony and dissonance.
Although Dubuffet and Basquiat:Personal Histories officially ended June 17th, the works of these two twentieth century greats are still on display for those wanting to dive in.
Image: Jean Dubuffet, Voyage en auto, October 15, 1979. Acrylic on canvas-backed paper with collage. Image courtesy PaceWildenstein.