I’ve recently become aware that Jumbie Works has 100 followers! Thank you all for your interest in my work.
As a sort of tribute to this event, I thought I’d write about two artists who have been key influences to the development of my artistic insight.
In this post I’d like to tell you about Frida Kahlo and Jean Michel Basquiat.
Over time, Frida Kahlo’s work has slowly trickled into my awareness, in such a way that I cannot remember a time when I was not aware of her work. In truth her image and perhaps her unibrow have permeated the art world in such a ubiquitous way because she painted herself. I’ve read that Frida was a presence not to be forgotten. She wore elaborate dresses that always stood out, perhaps to hide the mechanics she lived with in the aftermath of the tram accident that all but incapacitated her body.
Frida Kahlo’s paintings are some of the most evocative I’ve ever been blessed to see in person. I saw her work at the AGO in Toronto last year and awaited the show as a teenager awaits the appearance of a pop icon. Upon seeing her work, in person at last, my eyes brimmed with tears. I remember seeing ‘The Broken Column’ for the first time after only seeing it in books before. It was surreal. I felt like my mind was backtracking and trying to actively record the moment for always, while also trying to absorb the art. When I see that piece, I feel like I can almost experience the pain she lived for short bursts of time. That piece resonates with me, not because of the physical pain I have endured, but the emotional or spiritual pain that has ripped at me. I think that that piece really captures the feeling of being metaphysically torn asunder. In those moments you are amazed that you appear whole. In this piece as well, there is a foreign object within her that simultaneously holds her together and violates her essence. In some strange way I really get that.
I became aware of Basquiat a few years ago, after watching a documentary called ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat-The Radiant Child’. I was instantly and totally blown away by his work and the man that he was. There was a look in his eyes that suspended me in a silent moment of awe. Basquiat channelled something awesome that was primal, real and purely radiant. Basquiat’s work, defined the ‘Primitives’ in a way that I had never before fully understood. By the end of his career, his work was not simplistic because he was simple – rather the efficacy of his work was so distilled, that he needed very little to express himself.
My favourite Basquiat piece is ‘Riding with Death’. I believe that it was part of his last exhibition of work, before he died. It was far simpler than many of his iconic pieces. This one I think captures both Basquiat’s knowledge that he was killing himself slowly as well as a broader knowledge, that we are all riding with death in our shadow.
I have not yet had the honour of seeing his work in person, however next year, the AGO is hosting a Basquiat exhibition. I can’t even explain how excited I am about this. I’ve told friends that after I’ve seen this show, I can die happy.
Why have these particular artists influenced me?
First and foremost, in both cases, their art spoke to me in a direct and undeniable way. These two artists have time and again made work that resonates inside of me. Also, at a time when I was bored to tears of European Art, these artists visions were accessible to me. In an often Eurocentric Art world, their visions were closer to my own heart than many other mainstream painters have been. Their work feels real; like genuine, living artifacts of the incredible people they were.
I admire Frida Kahlo uniquely among painters because of her persistency in the face of absolute agony as well as her unearthly ability to create a relentless beauty, in a sometimes sordid world. She is my hero.
I admire Basquiat because he was simply brilliant. Although his work has never found the critical acclaim it deserves, in my eyes and heart and soul; I feel his work.
Both artists have helped me to accept who I am as an artist without judgement or expectation. They have given me permission to be myself – even if I don’t quite fit into any known subsection of the art world.