A WOUND-UP NEW YORK ARTIST OF THE EDGY 1980s

Interest And Controversy Over Such Modernistic Style Continues 27 Years After His Death

Having Begun As A Graffiti Artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Body Of Work Created Fame And Fortune Over About Eight Years. Critics And Ordinary People Study His Rousing Style Of Semiotics. Twenty-seven Years After His Death The Works Invigorate And Galvanize.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, born in 1960, had a life of 27 years in Brooklyn and Manhattan, although he exhibited in galleries of France, Italy, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Germany, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast, beginning around 1980. In the Brooklyn Museum, my feelings became deeply aroused as I walked through the “Unknown Notebooks Exhibit.” The notebook exhibition idea captured me, I being a journal keeper these many years.

Fluent in Spanish and English, Jean-Michel Basquiat Possessed Language Aptitute and a Playful Appreciation of Words

Fluent In Spanish And English, Jean-Michel Basquiat Possessed Language Aptitude And A Playful Appreciation Of Words. Early On As A Graffiti Artist, He Would Write Words Backwards: Ex. “Rat” Meant “Tar” Calling To Mind Blackness.

The day before, I viewed one large yellow Basquiat painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the newly completed building being quite a work of art in itself, the old uptown building having gone to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I would not have developed my lasting feelings for Basquiat by viewing the strange yellow painting streaked and messy, paint drips and words cast about the unframed canvas on the wall of the Whitney.

A Video Of An Interview With Jean-Michel Basquiat Captivated Brooklyn Museum Goers.

The difference in my engagement with Jean-Michel Basquiat came with  watching a video of him being interviewed, he so unusual and cool. I also found a streamed docu-drama starring Jeffrey Wright  to watch at home.

I understand how strong a preference for certain paper and writing implements can be. A writer needs the perfect jotter to scratch the pen against. I was smitten with the realization that his aptitude for and love of language kept him buying hundreds of small, lined notebooks. They were named by the brand Marble.

One Of So Many Nottebooks The Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat Chose

One Of So Many Notebooks The Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat Chose, All Marble Notebooks.

Definitions of the word “marble” may not have escaped Basquiat’s notice (or, the jotters were cheap): 1) to mottle and streak with colors and veins in imitation of marble stone; 2) (slang) a healthy mental state: lucidness, mind, reason, sanity, sense, wit, as in “to lose your marbles” = to go mad, take leave of your senses, and (Australian) “to pass in one’s marble” = to die. Jean-Michel Basquiat wrote in all caps all the time. I came home with a few 14-page 5 X 7 blank notebooks displaying one of his exuberant, wild-eyed males, from the painting Dustheads, 1982, on the front cover, and began practicing writing fast in all caps. The back cover is black with an icon that became associated with the artist– a small, three-pointed crown.

Jean-Michel Basquait As Pictured In Brooklyn Museum Video

Jean-Michel Basquait As Pictured In The Brooklyn Museum Video. In Casual Attire Here, He Was Known For Wearing Armani Suits, Always Keeping Dreadlocks.

Basquiat Loved The Simple Crown Because He Settled On Certain Heroes, and Gave Them This Crown

The Basquiat Crown Became His Icon, Even Though Other Artists Used A Crown.

Commentary On Basquiat's Iconic Simple Crown

Commentary On Basquiat’s Iconic Simple Crown

The video of Jean-Michel Basquiat revealed to me a startlingly handsome, young and fresh-seeming man, creative, who had the aplomb to keep silent if a question came that he did not like, a skill I admire. I particularly have come to enjoy the title of that video after studying the artist’s early life. The name of the piece is RADIANT CHILD. Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up with good mothering from Matilde of Puerto Rico, beautiful wife of Gerald, of Haiti, who broadened his brilliance and upper-middle-class privileges in several ways: a child’s membership in the Brooklyn Museum, a Gray’s Anatomy for understanding the body, and literature for understanding culture. Andy Warhol met Matilde and painted her portrait in 1986, 40 X 40 inches.

In the streamed documentary, I particularly liked the response the Basquiat character gave to the aggressive interviewer who said, “Someone has termed you the ‘picaninny of the art world.'” To which Basquiat replied, “Who was that? No. The phrase was the ‘Eddie Murphy of the art world.'” It is interesting to note that the comedian Murphy was born in 1961, one year after Basquait, and also was born in Brooklyn and lived early life there. The character cast as Madonna, close friend, came across too tame in looks.

Jean-Michel Basquiat gave a modern touch to the world of art, as did Keith Haring. A quote by Cathleen McGuigan from the Robert Farris Thompson essay “Activating Heaven: The Incantatory Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” from the 1985 exhibition catalog, Mary Boone Gallery of New York, sums up the Basquiat established career: “The extent of Basquiat’s success would no doubt be impossible for an artist of lesser gifts. Not only does he possess a bold sense of color and composition, but, in his best paintings, unlike many of his contemporaries, he maintains a fine balance between seemingly contradictory forces: control and spontaneity, menace and wit . . . . Still, the nature and rapidity of his climb is unimaginable in another era.”

In closing, valuing the imagination so much, I value the uninhibited rule-breaking canon of art, huge and tiny pieces, that he imagined, drew, and painted, images others could not see otherwise. Quotes on imagination abound: Hieronymus Bosch, Flemish painter, said, “Poor is the mind that always uses the ideas of others and invents none of its own.” George Santayana, Spanish-born American philosopher, said, “I have imagination, and nothing that is real is alien to me.” The life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a life that some describe as creative genius for depiction of difficult messages and signs for American culture, passed through his life too soon. A radiance from the young man, gone these 27 years, continues to enlighten and assist. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

TALIESIN: Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Shining Brow” (Welsh) in Wisconsin

Taliesin, built by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in his homeland of Spring Green, Wisconsin, near Madison, shone from the brow of the landscape, something like a crown. For him, Taliesin was imbued with hope and a homecoming freedom to the man’s soul. In this peaceful rural setting, we on tour understood more about architecture’s paradigm shift from Box to Prairie School visiting the genius architect’s “Shining Brow,” a structure put into the landscape, a home of many levels built from native sandstone, built into, not on, a beloved hill in the ancestral valley.  Frank Lloyd Wright (FLLW) built a house to increase the happiness of nature in one of his favorite places as a boy. In this home was hope for a life of unconventionality. Under influence of his mother, Anna Lloyd Wright, he came to build in the place where his grandparents had emigrated from Wales seventy years earlier.

We toured the grounds and structures on a warm June day in 2015, we dozen together. We were an intergenerational group, many with cameras, restricted to outside shooting. After four hours of touring, the human warmth of the 600-acre estate built from the work of its own valley’s laborers was palpable. So was its architect’s truth, and the developing American history of the first half of the twentieth century. Taliesin is indeed a treasured place in the world.

IMG_6379

Taliesin was to be a combination of stone and wood, just as they met in the aspect of the hills around about. Its color like the flat stretches of sand in the river.

Taliesin was to be a combination of stone and wood, just as they met in the aspect of the hills around about. Its color like the flat stretches of sand in the river. “The whole was low, wide, and snug, a broad shelter seeking fellowship with its surroundings,” said Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s intellectual power, natural charisma, his being self-taught in skills of farming and building, not trained to pursue a certain sweep of established practices . . .   these traits enabled the unique twists in the built structure combined with nature’s beauty, precepts that his mentor Louis Sullivan promulgated.

Readers of this post, what follows are tour notes scratched down in a four by five thin booklet, I standing and listening with gratitude to finally be where I was. Narration was by Brian, a three-decades-experienced describer of the architecture and points of personal interest of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 600 acres and the inhabitants.

Note #1  Out of the shuttlebus, we viewed the architecture design school, a sandstone building termed Hillside School. The structure once had a gymnasium, now a theatre, and wore the date 1903. The only such cornerstone adorns this building:

Frank Lloyd Wright, being Welsh, preserved a strange-spelling language by using the initials FLLW, as seen on this unique stone. Later cornerstones became red tiles. just a few. tiles

Frank Lloyd Wright, being Welsh, preserved a strange-spelling language by using the initials FLLW, as seen on this unique stone. Later cornerstones were red tiles, just twenty-one in all. They meant “FLLW approved.”

Can you imagine how thrilled members of this group felt entering the first building of the grandest Taliesin tour? Our narrator described the structure as a co-ed boarding school named Hillside Home School. It was said to have once accommodated 150 learners. Standing in the Assembly Room, we learned that FLLW’s grandfather saw to it that a phrase from the poem “Gray’s Elegy” was inscribed on the stone wall. Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard” is said to be the supreme example of eighteenth-century graveyard poetic expressions, i.e. a somber and thoughtful view of life.  I include the stanza carved into the stone wall: Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield, Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; How jocund did they drive their team afield! How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! These words bear evidence to FLLW’s Welsh heritage. Born in him was a sensitivity for the beauties and grandeur of nature. This poem, say critics, heralds lowly folk, which matches a strong take-away message of this tour–  FLLW built Taliesin with the labor of farming folk of Spring Green. He got the quarrying, stone masonry, carpentry, electrician work, and more done by members of the community, some of whose laborers possessed similar skills as did FLLW, practical skills of the farm. Of course, his enormous talent encompassed design, drawing, music, construction of  homes, fireplaces, and furniture.

HILLSIDE, built for architecture students when FLLW was about 35 (b. 1867), with influence from Welsh grandparents. Inside on a stone wall, grandfather inscribed a stanza of "Gray's Elegy" and grandmother, on a wooden beam, a verse from Isaiah of the Old Testament.

HILLSIDE, built for students when FLLW was about 35 (b. 1867), with influence from Welsh grandparents and his mother. Inside on a stone wall, grandfather inscribed a stanza of “Gray’s Elegy” and grandmother, on a wooden beam, a verse from Isaiah 40 of the Old Testament.

Today this building houses work stations for architectural students seeking a master’s degree. Their place for drafting was referred to as the “Abstract Forest” for its dense collection of heavy structural V-shaped braces. The space was a forerunner to the Johnson Wax Building that FLLW designed.

Our tour moved in this building to include having a seat in the theatre of 120 chairs. Both a curtain like no other and a favorite quote by Walt Whitman burnished this most interesting space:   Wisdom . . . something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul. The colorful stage curtain, made of cotton, canvas, and string, was designed by FLLW but put aside for many years. The name of the curtain was “View of the Valley in Abstract, Late Summer.” Mrs. Wright, Olgiavanna, Yugoslavian last wife, eventually recruited interns to sew his design and hang the curtain as a surprise. When FLLW analyzed what the students had produced, he arranged for a few changes, such as more gold cloth and more vertical bands of black. Apparently the many blocks of green cloth pleased him. The theatre welcomes patrons for performances by the Bach Dynamite Dancing Society and also hosts the Unity Chapel Concert Series.

Note #2  There are three Taliesins– I, II, III because of two fires. The first fire was lit by a deranged gardener who had been terminated. Seven people died in the fire. The first Taliesin stood five years. The second fire, lit by lightening, devastated the eleven-years-standing Taliesin II. Again, as in the first fire, the merciless winds, FLLW exclaimed, carried the flames to a dozen places burning up the living space but not the office, place of creative genius. Local lore has it that it seemed God was dissatisfied with the architect’s character and personal life, but not his work. In rebuilding after each fire, the Courtyard  increased. The Carriage House, where horses could be watered and cared for, was moved further back. Taliesin III has 3,700 feet of courtyards, after five decades of development. FLLW stated that Taliesin would never be completed, and freely took risks to change elements. Changes were welcomed if they were governed by the concept of “Implicit Diagonality.” Our narrator said that a new term is needed, a simpler term.

In the brochure about the tour, one can read that red was FLLW’s favorite color. He wrote of stones turned red, dyed by fire and reused. He said a richness had been added. The chosen red is a Cherokee red, the color of ironstone, as trims the house and is shown in the barns for Guernsey cows, horses, pigs, and chickens. Only Guernseys were put on the estate. Being tan or brown, they colored the landscape harmoniously without dotting it, as would black and white animals.

Red was said to be Frank Lloyd Wright's favorite color. The red on the barn today is brighter than the Cherokee red, or Ironstone seen on the house.

Red was said to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite color. The red on the barns today is brighter than the Cherokee red, or Ironstone seen on the house.

Note #3  Inside the Architect’s Residence we saw the table upon which FLLW drew the famous Fallingwater Home built in Pittsburgh. The drawings were produced in three hours, just before the buyer arrived to seal the deal that had been arranged on the telephone. According to Brian the narrator, this true story evidences that the design was completely finished in the mind of the genius architect. All that remained was the “downloading” onto paper once the opportunity for the sale presented itself.

Taliesin contains seventeen fireplaces. FLLW called them strong, quiet, rectangular rock-masses from the outside, bespeaking comfort within. Some burn vertical logs, something unusual and beautiful. So much work to cut logs, then carry them in and light fires– this  was a factor in the decision to establish Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, where interns and others in service could winter, returning to Taliesin Main during warmer seasons in Wisconsin.

Taliesin houses seven concert grand pianos of Bechstein brand. FLLW’s father was a piano teacher, and young Frank received so much music. All his architectural creations were like music to him. Our narrator placed much emphasis on the musical turn of mind FLLW possessed. In the short heyday of the estate when noted architects and literati gathered, some of them also musicians, the piano, violin, and cello sang of Bach, Beethoven, and Handel. A delightful piece of plywood furniture, never seen before by this tourist, had a purpose– it positioned four seated players facing in, their wooden music stands built in. The structure was a circle. Our narrator stated that one, the last one, was built for Lady Bird Johnson, former first lady, and that she eventually donated it to one of the Smithsonian Museums.

Many large Asian statues and many wall-hangings, notably a Japanese masterpiece by Tan Yeng from the late 1400s, adorned the living space. A quote from a book purchased in the gift shop after the tour (Taliesin, edited and photographed by Yukio Futagawa, 2002, Tokyo) addresses the curiosity about the many statues:  “If the eye rested on some ornament it could be sure of worthy entertainment. Hovering over these messengers to Taliesin from other civilizations and thousands of years ago, must have been spirits of peace and good-will? Their figures seemed to shed fraternal sense of kinship from their places in the stone or from the broad ledges where they rested. For the story of Taliesin, after all, is old:  old as the human spirit. These ancient figures were traces of that spirit, left behind in the human procession as Time went on, and they now come forward to find rest and feel at home. So it seemed as you looked at them. But they were only the story within the story:  ancient comment on the New.”

Note #4  It seems to tour-goers to be true that Mr. Wright likely enjoyed life at Taliesin III with his young wife Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenburg, of Montenegro and Yugoslavia, pupil of the philosopher Gurdjieff. We imagine they spent their days in the harmonious and subtle shelter that was the third edition of Taliesin with their daughter Iovanna. A surprise is born! A late change comes– 1953! FLLW acquires steel trusses that were part of a freight vessel on Lake Michigan. A highly unusual long jut is built into the house exterior off a living-room balcony. A steel truss, a lengthy I beam girder, it is supported in the middle by a stone pylon and named the Bird Walk; it was the wife’s idea. This disturbing walkway would in no way be thought of as an abomination because of the “form follows function” genre of architecture. Its reason for being? It was the site for seeing as birds in the treetops see, a lesson in perspective. FLLW stated of his beloved Taliesin that it would never be finished and that it had no inharmonious discrepancy. A nature-loving couple, happy at home, a workshop home, a home with a school wherein architects learn from the master to take risks, this is the unique Taliesin.

Walking Away From Taliesin The Home

REGARDING COLOR IN ROOM DESIGN

 

What Six Favorite Colors Would You Fill In?  Yellow, Blue, Red + Green, Orange, Violet?

What Six Favorite Colors Would You Fill In? Yellow, Blue, Red + Green, Orange, Violet?

Taking time for literary effort in the midst of a bathroom remodel, I put down design thoughts, in preparation for selecting just the right paint for a bathroom’s walls. The bathroom is an upstairs, five- by five-foot personal space.  The tile is laid down on floor and shower walls, and it strikes me as statement tile, as in a statement piece of jewelry, now that I see the many tiles together.  “Statement” in jewelry means that the piece attracts other people’s eyes to the wearer, or has power to evoke emotions, i.e., it is not an everyday ornament.  My tiles make a statement because they have “movement.”  The thirteen- by thirteen-inch porcelain tiles, not shiny but more like very fine-grit sandpaper, are cream colored and sport tan and grey veins running through on the diagonal.  My tile-layer man headed the veins, some effused, more cloudlike than threadlike, all in the same direction.  Imagine how busy my small room could have stated itself had he done otherwise!

Tile having been laid, it is time to decide on wall paint color.  This is a big decision.  I believe the pleasure found in a living space is a result of the harmony of colors and structures amalgamated.  To help me find where to start, I scan through a several-years-old Architectural Digest.  One can count on design inspiration from that magazine.

A quote from the late Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, the “Queen of Paris” as the press of decades past was fond of calling her, appeals to my design preferences for layers of texture, subtle contrasts of many related colors, and the inclusion of some lustrous metal and solid black:  She said, “I love mixing things together—they always end up in harmony.”

A Medium-sized Pot With Interesting Shapes

A Medium-sized Pot With Interesting Shapes

A Turquoise Not Calling Attention To Itself

A Turquoise Not Calling Attention To Itself

Of course the amount of living space available at her supreme level, wherein the entire globe was her shopping mall, she was probably thinking of ancient materials in 17th-century paired or grouped statues, giant Grecian urns, or tapestries sold from the Massif Centrál of her beloved France, the Netherlands of her birth, or exotic foreign places.  Her station in life gave access to opulent, rare, or exquisitely handcrafted objects and furniture, textiles fringed or tasseled, Indonesian batiks, and more.  Her eponymous style of décor, le style Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, is unvaryingly associated with wealth and richness.  I encourage my furtherance in color insight with the following quote for the day, also copying it to my talented cousin in design, Robbie Hansen, who has helped our family live with good design:  The Baroness said of a newly built chalet, “When I saw it, I said to myself, Now you’ve got to do it up.”  She called in François Catroux, never far from her in such ventures, states the magazine article, and said of him, “I think a designer, no matter how gifted he is, can’t do a thing unless he has a strong personality to deal with.”

The Architectural Digest: The International Magazine of Interior Design, Collector’s Edition, May 2004, where I found the above quotes, has helped me understand what I am looking for in my five-by-five personal bathroom—a comingling of visual excitement presented by my tiles, together with a cream-colored showpiece that is my Ronbow vanity with black-granite top.  Add the unexpected solid-black recessed mirrored medicine chest (yes, these once common then disappeared cabinets are back), and the cozy comfort of a pale  straw-colored, thickly painted wall.  But, wait a minute, there’s a world of change out there, and I could take a risk . . . perhaps I’ll finish with a mid-tone deep grey purple, inspired by my cousin’s dining-room walls.  Admittedly hers are much taller walls, loaded with gold sconces, Egyptian or Roman vases, and an exorbitant chandelier.  Or maybe I’ll search out an Indonesian batik shower curtain for the end splash.  However the outcome,  the big decision of what color to paint the walls has put me deeply involved in the world of color. I am learning, and it reminds me of being in young love—you feel the vitality of being alive and able to select and finally commit.

Purple is a highfalutin color.  It is marketed as causing an intuitive mood.

Purple is a highfalutin color. It is marketed as causing an intuitive mood.

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Arrow logo ornaments fine pieces.

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Beautiful long chain; can be doubled

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Inspiring and Beautiful

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"Retired"

Beautiful earrings, now retired, that evoke compliments

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One Pair for Everyday; One Pair for Dress Up

Silpada’s Wooden Earrings weigh next to nothing. Wear them all day easily. One pair made of wood on hooks; One pair studs structured substantively with cubic zirconium crystals front and back

 

Fashion Jewelry by: B E T S E Y .

At the beginning of fall season, some predictable things start going on in my girly self: I buy a Vogue Magazine, pull garments from my “tired of” closet, and go shopping at Macy’s, Dillards, TJMaxx, and small, locally owned dress shops. In the Macy’s fashion-jewelry area at the Betsey Johnson counter, a jewelry counter that has made me smile for ages, but a place that seemed wild, I finally sprang for my first pair of Betsey earrings to be worn by me, not someone younger.

I was prompted by having lost not one but two valuable stud earrings on two different occasions close together. Swearing off valuable

stud earrings, preferring instead leverback earrings, not as likely to fly away when you pull a top over your head or use the shower and hair dryer at the fitness center, I chose the gold-toned leopard-print hearts accented with tiny enameled black bows. They were under $40, half as expensive as the single amethyst stud that went missing. I had no idea how happy that Betsey purchase would make me. The Betseys were comfortable, played up my complexion, and provided a feeling of pride of ownership because they seemed well made. Within a few days, I had also bought two other pair of earrings, a watch, three necklaces, a tote bag, and a wallet, all sporting the hot pink sales tag with Betsey’s hand-printed first and last names, followed by a period.

With every purchase, I chatted to whoever was at the counter and learned that Betsey is seventy years old. Reading about New York Fashion Week, I learned that, although seventy, she continued her tradition of turning a cartwheel at the finish of her runway designs each year. I learned that she is a grandmother like me, but that her daughter does not wish to continue the company, now that her mother is retiring or selling. Rumor has it that Liz Claiborne Company has bought Betsey Johnson. I would not be surprised if this is true, as the Liz Company owns the Juicy Couture and Lucky Brands, both with some sass like Betsy Johnson’s merchandise.

The happy feeling continues every time I put on Betsey Johnson items, or even thinking of what she represents gives me a happy kick: fun with fashion, courage to dress for oneself, and a kind of Andy Warhol freshness in understanding semiotics and iconography. Let this essay bring tribute to the youngest-feeling seventy-year-old grandmother I’ve ever encountered. Betsey Johnson, I really appreciate the work you have done in costume jewelry, bags, wallets, and totes. I am a happier older person for having met your designs.

 

NOTES

Quote

WELCOME, writers, editors, and publishers! Come on in!  WELCOME readers!

A note is a trace, a word, a drawing that in a gentle flash becomes part of the thinking process.  It is a flexible mental move generating space for the possible.

“Notetaking encompasses witnessing, drawing, writing, and a diagrammatic thinking; it is speculative, manifests a preliminary moment, a passage, and acts as a memory aid.”

Source for the above:  I found the quote, and that above (paraphrased) in a catalogue for architects, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Spring 2011, in reference to dOCUMENTA (13) EXHIBITION: June 9–Sept. 16, 2012.