Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Marcel Sitcoske Gallery

Graffiti Art, Abstract Expressionism, poetry. One searches for words to describe the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat which is currently on view at the Marcel Sitcoske Gallery, the first solo exhibition of his work in San Francisco. Basquiat’s style is deeply rooted in graffiti art. He was closely associated with Andy Warhol and Keith Haring who, in turn, drew inspiration from some of Basquiat’s work.

The exhibit focuses on works from 1981 to 1985. In addition to paintings and decoupage, the show has a number of works in oil-stick on paper from 1981. The pieces combine words and line drawing in a poetic way that brings to mind haiku. They are thought provoking vignettes, simply presented.

The themes explored in this collection are powerful – class struggle, jails, oppression, pop culture. Yet, even in the most desolate images, the artist’s sense of humor asserts itself, allowing the viewer to step in and appreciate his perspective.

In Untitled (Black II), (1981), walls and prisons combine to give a sense of oppression and frustration. The artist repeats many symbols until they become iconic. Black II makes use of many of these symbols: crowns, skulls, wheels, and the ubiquitous "S." In Il Publico Bruto, Basquiat juxtaposes images of the human figure, cartoons, and text in a stream of consciousness composition that draws upon inspirations as diverse as Picasso and anatomy studies. The off-center composition seems lost at first, but invites the viewer to look for deeper meanings.

Untitled, 1983, shows a different aspect of Basquiat’s work. This simple white on black piece evokes a gallows-like image, using line with striking effect, line that evokes an elegant, minimalist quality. A gem in the collection, Untitled Crown, has a strong graphic quality and tightly worked composition. As with many of Basquiat’s works, it also relies heavily on text. Here, the text is relegated to the background where it makes thought-provoking statements.

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