Yesterday afternoon, I had the day off and spent a couple of hours at the contemporary art museum here in town. The latest exhibition showcases a raw, vibrant display of street art, including graffiti, photography, and a rare collection of Jean-Michel Basquiat scribbles/doodles done a year before he became famous.
Just a few weeks ago, I saw Julian Schnabel's film "Basquiat" at a local theater (on original 35mm, complete with snaps and pops and blips on the screen), followed by a Q&A panel with one of Basquiat's friends and bandmates who was also the screenwriter for the film, Michael Holman. Seeing the film this time around, after watching it 21 years ago when it first came out, was just as moving for me now as it was back then. (On a side note: David Bowie played Andy Warhol in it, which was a remarkable performance. All of the actors were remarkable.) Hearing Michael Holman's tales afterwards about Basquiat and the crazy life they led brought back a cloud of memories for me.
When I was in junior high/high school, I had lofty dreams of running off to New York to hang with Warhol and the Factory crowd and to immerse myself in the art scene. I knew such a lifestyle would come with a truckload of challenges, but it held a certain glamour for me, and the creativity that was being produced out there was alluring to my much-younger, naive self. I never made it to New York, and after Warhol passed in '87, there was little point in doing so. However, that itch to live a Bohemian, street-art lifestyle never left me. To some degree, I did live it, but my version wasn't glamorous or productive - just a lot of fucked-up. If nothing else, I walked away with some serious life experiences under my belt, and I met some interesting people along the way - some who didn't make it out, and some who did and are now enjoying successful lives. For me, the direction could have gone either way, but that's for another discussion.
So, this art exhibit yesterday compounded the influx of memories that had already been swirling around after watching "Basquiat" again. But, beyond the Basquiat exhibit itself, there was a whole floor of the museum dedicated to thousands of photos by a New York artist named Ryan McGinley. These photos, taken when he was in his early 20s, exemplify street-art life, with raw, realistic portrayals of himself and his friends - many art students, many living on the streets - shown countless times in very stark, unflattering situations (a post-punch bloodied mouth, someone snorting coke, someone passed out, someone naked and bruised, someone with cum-splattered pants, someone spewing vomit, and so on.) This entire exhibit is stark and in-your-face, similar to Nan Goldin's photos in the mid-80s, and seeing it brought flashback reminders of so many things for me, including people and circumstances that I could relate to.
The photo below, titled "Red Mirror", particularly moved me, because it embodies Ryan's sexual discovery about himself and an intimacy and energy that pokes at the heart no matter what your preference is. I can see myself in this photo. I can see friends in this photo. I can see many in this photo. Can you see yourself?
In a new chapter that I'm currently working on for my story Dissonance, I mention art imitating life... or is it life imitating art? I feel that way often. Just last night, while attending an art opening for a friend of mine, I saw a man wearing the exact 1950s vintage western jacket that I'd just described in this current, unfinished chapter. I couldn't fucking believe it. The exact one. I had to go over and discuss the uncanny coincidence with him. Art imitating life... or life imitating art? The lines are blurred. The exhibit at the contemporary art museum perfectly illustrated that for me yesterday.
I feel more enlightened and inspired today because of it.