leslie nikole
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leslie.nikole at icloud dot com


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I probably shouldn't have, and admitting this will probably get me in trouble down the line if I ever apply to work in an art gallery or museum, but I touched an original Basquiat painting once. I didn't use my right hand for the rest of the day.  I don't remember where I picked up on Basquiat, but I remember it being years ago when I was in high school before he was became a recently huge pop culture reference thanks to Jay-Z and Kanye West.

Obsessed with bones and my love for broken, well, anything it seems, Basquiat and I are a perfect match. His art is catching, easy to identify, and is the kind that I'd gladly pay to sit down and talk about. For me, Basquiat is not for discussion with rich art critiques toting degrees from Yale or wherever, but with people, preferably the ones currently getting pushed out of their Flatbush and Fordham apartments because the rent is sky rocketing thanks to gentrification. Basquiat's work is a look at society, which unfortunately hasn't progressed enough to the point that we can say we're past the problems we had in the 1980's. Fusing blotches with fine details, images with words, and even the English and Spanish languages, Basquiat's art is what I dream of putting up in my living room.

But a lot of people think he's overrated. His sketches are bad, children could paint better (if they weren't glued to the screen you dropped in front of them of course), his work was incomplete, and the list goes on. Was Basquiat a bad person? I have no idea, I never met the guy; he was born before my mother for goodness' sake! But since no one else's sketches are getting similar recognition and the little gremlins of today have yet to hit the art world (which is no longer the same, in any way except for it's cut throat aspect), I don't care for the complaints.

My only beef with Basquiat and his enthusiasts are their glorification of his drug abuse (a long string of heroin and cocaine use) and/or his drug overdose. While under the influence, Basquiat is said to have made some amazing art, as many other artists of other avenues have. But Basquiat's heroin and cocaine use was not done in private while he was locked away in his studio. Basquiat had friends and family, and quite importantly, a muse named Suzanne.

Suzanne Mallouk stays out of the media. She's a psychologist or therapist now, I think for artists, especially those with drug problems. She was Jean-Michel Basquiat's long time girlfriend, living with him for a better part of his career following their first meeting in 1980. If it wasn't for her friend, Jennifer Clement, writing a memoir of Suzanne's life and short time with Basquait, I would have never known she existed. I'd had Widow Basquiat in my Amazon cart for awhile and when I got amazing reviews about it from Ashley, a fellow Basquiat enthusiast and art student, I didn't hesitate to pick it up.

Clement's memoir of Suzanne's life until a few months after Basquiat's death is full of turbulence from the beginning. If you ever wanted to prove the theory that eventually broken people find each other, Suzanne and Jean-Michel are the perfect example. Between emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her father, her mother's flighty and condescending remarks, and her childhood home always full of people (anyone from young men running away from enlistment during the Vietnam war to orphaned disabled children), Suzanne never had a shot at "normal." By the time she moves from quiet Ontario to New York City and meets Basquiat, who likes to stare at her while she works, nothing is ever the same for her again. Throughout years in a haze of cocaine, heroin, and weed, Suzanne sticks by Basquiat through the best and his worst. Basquiat's violent outbursts, derogatory remarks, and brash way of dealing with Suzanne are all chronicled in Clement's memoir. Was it the drugs or was it the man? I can't really tell.

Widow Basquiat is short, but powerful. Touching on abuse on various levels in the home and family, the art world, the budding New York City scene in the 1980's, racism, the rampant drug scene, the devastating AIDS epidemic, and finding it within yourself to figure out when enough is enough, this short recollection of Suzanne Mallouk's thoughts and experiences is perfect for anyone further interested in learning about Basquiat and the art world that some feel lead to his demise. Basquiat is not portrayed in a light that dismisses his transgressions because of his upbringing, but sheds light on the man he was when only Suzanne, his muse, was around.

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