Jean-Michel Basquiat

Art Beatus, Vancouver
September 12 to October 16

History of Black People (1983),
acrylic and oil stick on canvas

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, once known as "a controversial graffiti artist", died in 1988 at the age of 27. His career was short but forcible. Highly semiotic, his mural-size paintings with their resonances of African art, jazz, reggae and rap music are a pastiche of symbols, text and references.

They appear almost child-like in style today, in an uneasy cross between Guernica and sidewalk drawings. The surfaces are unformatted. His signs and symbols wander across them in a chaotic mix of allusions that overlap, repeat and converge. Like a mad diagrammer, Basquiat sought to map violence as a street attitude.

His work questioned modernist notions of legitimacy, authorship and proprietorship during the 1960s and 70s. This was a time when iconographic imagery and multicultural allusions - such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Roman numerals and French, Spanish and Italian text - had few points of reference in the history of art. His vocabulary of icons for technology and copyright was uniquely postmodern.

On September 25 from 7-9pm Afro-American poet Ted Joans will reveal his "personal take" on Basquiat at the Art Beatus Gallery.

© Mia Johnson