The notebooks are filled with images and words that recur in Basquiat’s paintings and other works. Iconic drawings and pictograms of crowns, teepees, and hatch-marked hearts share space with handwritten texts, including notes, observations, and poems that often touch on culture, race, class, and life in New York. Like his other work, the notebooks vividly demonstrate Basquiat’s deep interests in comic, street, and pop art, hip-hop, politics, and the ephemera of urban life. They also provide an intimate look at the working process of one of the most creative forces in contemporary American art.
I recently had a chance to spend some time with this new collection of the composition notebooks of one of my favorite artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat. I found it absolutely fascinating as a fan but even more so as one who has championed keeping a notebook or journal to others for a very long time.
The reason — most of the pages have a single small drawing or a sentence or even just a single word. A great deal of it would make no coherent sense to the casual reader — especially if you were not already a fan of and well versed in the work and troubled life of this artist.
One of the points I try to hammer home about keeping a notebook or journal of any type is the idea that “anything counts”. And, certainly, Basquiat’s notebooks are a near perfect example of that. I find it strangely inspirational.