It was a slightly different style of graffiti compared to that of the graffiti that clothed the New York subway trains. Rather than simply writing SAMOA (which meant Osama Old Sit’) he Included slogans which were implicitly political and drawings that were primitive In style yet complex In meaning. It wasn’t long before Basalt gained recognition for his unusual style of art. Just as music was an essential part of the subway graffiti art scene, music was a fundamental contributor to the art produced by Baseball.
It was the exhilarating, frenetic Improvised Jazz sounds of the sass and ass, with the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, among other be-bop musicians that inspired him. Jazz has roots embedded in the African American lifestyle, and it was the lifestyle of the jazz musicians that Basque identified with. It was a constitutive part of Bassist’s work, as Affair Thompson states “understanding he art of Jean-Michel depends In part on understanding his lifelong Involvement with music D literally his working ambient.
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Jazz and blues are prominent, consciously chosen Afro-Atlantic roots. ” Particular jazz musicians Basque dollied were Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Max Roach, but most prominently Charlie Parker. In her book Basalt: A Quick Killing In Art, Phoebe Hobby draws upon numerous comparisons between Basque and Parker: they both left home at fifteen, both were terminal junkies and sex addicts, both became acquainted with the latest artistic trend of the mime, thus both becoming famous by the age of twenty-one and both were intelligent yet “self-conscious bad boys. From this evidence It is clear why Basalt had such empathy with Parker and why he saw himself as “art’s answer touchable Parker. ” I is with the influence of Parker and jazz on Bassist’s art that we can observe the improvisation in his work “grounded in a knowing assimilation of the past. ” And it is with Parker that I want to explore Bassist’s art to see how he used Parser’s music and his legacy to create the masterpieces: Charles the First (1 982), Horn Players (1 983), CPRM (1982), and code (1984).
I have chosen works from 1982, 1983 and 1984 as that was when “all hell broke loose” and when he really started to introduce ‘OFF Charles the First, painted in 1982 is seen as a pivotal piece as it was the first time Basque had tried to bring back the memory of Charlie Parker. The title of the piece, like so many of his titles, draws for further examination. He once said in an interview with Henry Gallagher that the subject of his art was “royalty, heroism and the streets;” in the title of this piece,Charles’ refers to Charlie Parker, but The First’ puts Parker into a position of royal status.
It has a comical element to it, but at the same time it reveals Bassist’s adoration for the musician. Basque experimented vastly with the frames of his paintings and the material he painted onto. Charles the First is no exception; painted on three panels, it is a triptych, which separates the piece into three sections. Robert Mealy notes that “some visual artists divide their work into sections that approximate the structures of Jazz: the A section swinging into the B section and back into A. Like a piece of music, each section of Charles the First says something different but remains constant in its theme, using the same colors, beating the letter SO’ and his trademark crown, which he used not only as a trademark but “as a symbol of respect and admiration that he bestows on the figures that represent his work. ” Parker had the ability to play in two very contrasting styles; Marshall W. Stearns describes it as playing “hot” and “cold. Basque parallels this Contrasting’ technique by using a cool, aquamarine blue against a hot, desert-sand yellow. Charles the First has a “ruthlessness” that much of Parser’s music has, for example, in the tune Ode Bop’, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker enter the music in a aerobatic fashion, having little respect for the beat; Jumping in front of it, playing just after it. The beat is always there but Gillespie and Parser’s improvisations arena constrained by it in anyway which gives the piece a free-form, rhythms feeling.
Much is the same in Charles the First; Basque keeps the beat with the blocks of yellow, blue and back, but then almost disregards it by writing words and painting long blue lines, short red lines, scratches of orange and black in a cacophonic fashion which percolates this sense of ruthlessness. Basque paints Parser’s hands, one tit a crown above it, the other connected to the letter SO’ (representing Superman). This exemplifies his reverence towards Parker as he is saying that Parker has the “touch of a king, with the grasp of a superhero. Between 1982 and 1985, Bassist’s style shifted from his obsession with mortality and imagery relating to the streets, to a new found identity with his black and Hispanic ancestry. He began to produce multiple paintings, which he would coat with words, much to the annoyance of his collectors who “equated the work with graffiti, which was carefully obsoletes to a fad by the status quo. ” He focused on numerous black figures, not Just the be-bop Jazz musicians he so looked up to, but often boxers, such as Cassias Clay, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Johnson as well.
It was the first time in his career that he was explicitly celebrating the role of the African American in society. But these figures were painted, not Just as celebrating black culture, but also as a critique of assimilation between whites and blacks. The black figures are often painted alone “expressing a firsthand knowledge of the way assimilation and objectification lead to isolation. ” If we look at one of Bassist’s 1983 pieces called Horn Players, we can observe how his particular case, he paints Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, playing the saxophone and the trumpet respectively.
Horn Players is another example of the extensive references to Jazz in Bassist’s work; not solely because it is the theme of the artwork, but also in the way the piece has been constructed. On the right hand side at the top of the painting, Bassist has written “Ornithology”, referring to a piece of music written and Performed by Charlie Parker. He also writes the word “Pre”; this is paying respects to the daughter of Parker who died of pneumonia aged two and a half. He also writes the names of the two musicians, but paints lines through the name of Parker as it draws our attention to it.
He explains: “l cross out words so you will see them more; the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them more. ” Like Charles the First, it is a triptych, with the figure of Parker dominating the first panel, an unknown head of a figure (possibly a self portrait in attempt to place himself between the two people he venerated greatly) at the centre of the second panel, and Gillespie holding his trumpet in the third panel. “The up- down-up rhythm of the painted heads is music in itself. This kind of rhythm represents the spontaneity in Parser’s and Gillespie improvisations which carries through into Bassist’s work.
When asked about the spontaneous nature of his work in an interview by Marc H. Miller, Basque said that his paintings were “usually to do with that day”, emphasizing the improvisatory personality that his work represents. The theme of anatomy runs through much of Bassist’s oeuvre, and in this piece he references the DEAR’, FEET’, and LARYNX’ as these “aspects of anatomy are coded playbacks of accomplishment. ” DEAR’ alludes to the idea that “Jazz stems from aural/ oral roots, more improvised than written down. This concept is accentuated by Duke Longtime, who once told his band to “play the notes as written but also to keep some dirt in there, somewhere”, by “dirt” Longtime is referring to improvisation, and as Mealy notes, “Bastioned others gave their work a swimmingly, improvised dimension. They kept “some dirt in there somewhere” too. ” FEET’ refers to time keeping within music; keeping the beat going with one’s feet. LARYNX’ “praises full- throated play and memorable scatting;” Basque paints the words OOH SHOO DE
OBOE’ next to Gillespie head, as though Gillespie is actually scatting himself. The three panels of Horn Players are painted Jet black, which may be to symbolism Jazz as a genre of music listened to and played by black people. It evokes a strong black sentiment and depicts a dark Jazz club quite vividly It isn’t devoid of color however, as there are streaks of bright pink, yellow, orange and blue representing flashes of improvisation; each line of color exemplifies a short blast of high pitched improvised sounds coming from Parser’s saxophone or Gillespie trumpet.
One final mint to make about this painting is that Parser’s nickname was bird’ (hence Ornithology’ – being the branch of zoology that deals with the study of birds), and painted over Charlie Parker’ in white is a picture that is reminiscent of a bird. Basque creates the impression that the bird is flying over the triptych by painting on top of the name Charlie Parker’. Basque could be implying here that Parker has somehow transcended to a more spiritual and peaceful realm where racial inequality isn’t a social and cultural dilemma. From a youthful graffiti artist to a mature post-modern insurrectionist.
Identifying his own racial identity is a complex issue; his mother was from Puerco Rica and his father from Haiti, but he was brought up in Brooklyn, New York, where he spent time living on the streets by his own admission. The New York art world that he entered in the sass was a predominantly white, bourgeoisie world in which Basque was an Outsider’. Luck Mariner, in his essay Pay for Soup/Build a Fort/Set that on Fire suggests that Basque played on his Blackness’ strengthening his position as an Outsider’. “In the white art world it would mark him out as different and as someone who breaks the rules.
Basque countered this argument when talking about his ethnic background in his interview with Marc H. Miller; when he said “l don’t exploit it. ” Similar to Basque, Parker rewrote the rules of his art form; playing at incredibly fast tempos with such tenacity and style while keeping the clarity of the notes he played, inviting “all Jazz instrumentalists and composers of any era to reevaluate every aspect of their arts. ” Basque also pushed the boundaries by removing the technical skill from his art creating a “higher degree of profundity. ” This is clearly evident in another one of Bassist’s homage to Parker, CPRM (1982).
His name is then separated from the rest of he information on the canvas by a single black line, underneath there is the trademark crown, followed by the information I previously mentioned, and a crucifix framed by two quivering black lines; which completes the funerary aspect. Beneath the crucifix, are the words CHARLES THE FIRST’ with the Roman numeral I underneath FIRST’. In his essay brushes with Beatitude’, Klaus Seekers describes this as “a kind of frantic crudeness spontaneously combustion[inning] into a tense complexity of the drawn as painted sight, painted sound, and painted sense. Not only does the painting conjure a sense of improvisation, but the wooden frame, with TTS protruding ends, and the fact that the canvas spills out over the frame epitomizes the feeling of improvisation. The frame is also painted brown; Affair Thompson suggests that this “may conceal a homage to one of the stylistic devices of Joseph Buys, himself a heroic figure of twentieth-century art. ” The simplistic structure of this piece, predominantly using three colors; cream, black and brown highlight the sentimentality of the piece, evoking real emotion. It is perhaps the most affectionate of all Bassist’s tributes to Parker.
When it came to discussing his paintings, Basque was reluctant to explain the meanings behind them. Often, he would simply not turn up to arranged interviews, giving rather vague excuses, such as “l wasn’t in the traveling mood. ” When he did answers to questions about his art. When asked about the use of certain colors on one of his canvases, he simply answered, “It’s some black paint on top of some green paint. ” Although this could be quite frustrating for the interviewer, it all contributed to Bassist’s slightly mysterious aura that made him so famous.
This relates to Jazz in the respect that when Charlie Parker performed, he wouldn’t then discuss afterwards what he had Just played. He never played the same thing twice” thus there is a sense of spontaneity and inspiration-of-the-moment with both Bassist’s art and Parser’s Jazz. It doesn’t need to be explained by the author, the “works speak for themselves;let is only necessary to listen 0 and to read and understand, to look and see. ” The final work of art I want to focus on is the latest of the four pieces I have looked at.
Painted in 1984, it is called Code and refers to the Afro-Louisianan style of folk/Jazz music with the same name. Although this painting doesn’t refer to Parker explicitly, there is no doubt that his music had an impact on the aesthetics of it. Code is a popular music of southern Louisiana that combines French dance melodies, elements of Caribbean music, and the blues, played by small groups featuring the guitar, the accordion, and a washboard. It was briefly popular during the sass, and had a resurgence in North America, particularly in New York in the sass.
Basque was familiar with this style of music as it was part of the Jazz scene he adored so much. Code is slightly different to the previous three paintings mentioned. It is a triptych but the colors aren’t as bright and he seems to have avoided the “scratchy worked reface” of his earlier works. That doesn’t take away any of the vibrancy of the piece as he still manages to catch the energy of the performance by composing the piece like a stage, as though there is a live performance taking place with the faces at the bottom representing the audience.
The scattered blocks of white and cream act as loud bursts of sound, but they also create a sense of rhythm. Affair Thompson notes that the painting suggests three things: firstly “the Afro-Atlantic aesthetic of the cool”, secondly, “the actual playing of the accordion-based music” (represented by the lack figure in the middle panel), and finally “the outward flow of the music in film, radio, photography, and recording. ” This is achieved by the figure holding a camera on the third panel, filming the man playing the accordion; there is also a camera and a videophone in the third panel.
The whole composition and structure of the piece seems much more planned and less improvisatory due to the thick blocks of color and the more figurative depictions of people and equipment, such as the and the film camera. Other than a few drips of paint at the bottom of the middle panel, there are virtually no flashes or scribbles of color. The reason for this less improvised technique is because code music is a more structured genre of jazz than the soloist, improvised style of be-bop.