Feral expressionism & primal beings in our own Becoming & in Basquiat
Four posts ago .. before we got distracted by inclement weather, a Cal A. Mari cameo in a Kim Ki-Duk movie & the death of our friend Carlos M. Luis .. we mentioned we made a cover for the book we're working on & we never showed it here. Being that this blog is mostly about what we are working on (all else is only in regards to how it relates to this) & why we are here .. here it is ....
As you, The Internet, can tell (by tags or keywords or even OCR (though we split the title in half to make this difficult for non-humans)), we also came up with a name for this book object. We (Cal A. Mari & «i») were under the gun, we needed the cover for some promotional thing our distributor SPD was making for AWP .. & speaking of AWP, it's fast approaching .. we'll be there (table L18) if we didn't mention that here already.
Spoiler alert: if you (presumably an Internet surfer) are the kind of person that doesn't like things explained to you, then stop reading ....
.... we might mention some things here about why some things are the way they are. Like why we are calling this book The Becoming. We've been calling this thing by other names, like West of Kingdom Come, which we can't use because that is the name of the overall tetralogy .. or The Raft Manifest, which we also can't use because that will probably be the name of the second book .. in this book they never even get around to building the raft so seems silly to call it that.
Actually forget it. We don't want to tell you why it's called The Becoming. Suffice to say that it's a book about becoming .. or actually, it's not really «about» anything. It is just language for the sake of it. Along with the cover & title, we wrote a descriptor to satisfy such metadata requirements .. but this descriptor is not so much what the book is about, but something we like to keep in the back of our mind while writing (or in turn, reading) the book:
This should be all you need to know. The rest you should figure out for yourself. But first we need to make the book .. we are about halfway through it at this point, but it's hard to measure these things. And we are (apparently) still thinking through some shit, like obviously we brought with us from Rome this obsession with people raised by wolves ....
There's a scene in The Radiant Child where a journalist, it seemed on live TV, asked Basquiat something about 'primitive' art or primal expressionism & his relation to it & Basquiat got all defensive & bothered & said something like, «what, primal, like primate, an ape?» The interviewer seemed like a douche-bag (granted it was the early 80s, before the likes of Spike Lee had desensitized & prepared us for such awkward situations), but we kind of felt for the guy. He stammered but didn't have much to say in return, to which Basquiat added, «hey, you said it.»
But both are to blame for this awkward racial over-sensitivity. It seems (now, at least to us) a legitimate thing to think & ask, to drop the p-word in questioning one's inclinations .. though we're not sure what kind of answer you'd expect. How does one intellectualize primitive art or primal expressionism?
Elsewhere in the movie .. when Basquiat is asked about process & why he does what he does (by another interviewer, we think the filmmaker Tamra Davis .. who he obviously felt more comfortable with), he effectively deflects the question by saying that he doesn't know why he does what he does. Good answer (or cop out .. you decide). But it's funny, telling, how he let this 'primal' question get under his skin. And elsewhere he is also asked if there are any critics he thinks have accurately written about his work & he mentions one (whose name we don't remember) & how this critic (a white dude) effectively related Basquiat to African art. So Basquiat doesn't, didn't have a problem being characterized or compared with African art, but has a problem being labeled as primal or 'primitive'.
When you look at the etymology of «primitive» though, it actually derives from the latin primitivus, or 'first of its kind,' or from primus .. 'first'. So the word primitive is more about being original, not being derivative. Which seems like the ultimate complement to us. But we are not Basquiat. Basquiat puts his being, his biology, in front of his art. He thinks of the question not as it relates to his work (as the guy asked) but as it related to him, the person.
Basquiat has also famously characterized his art, when asked, as being «80% about anger». When in fact, at least from our humble perspective, his art seems like it's less than 8% about anger. And Basquiat himself, based on the footage & interviews, doesn't seem at all that angry, so much as the sensitive type. Troubled yes, but in more a confused & sad way, internally conflicted (perhaps the anger is all self-inflicted), not seemingly angry, or at least not outwardly expressing it. Jackson Pollock seemed angry, though he would probably characterize himself as sensitive. Then again, Basquiat's true self was masked by drug use. In many ways, Basquiat reminds us of our brother, an artist, that also died of a heroin overdose. And they may have ran in the same circles in LA in the early 80s (we vaguely remember our brother talking about Basquiat at the time with a tinge of jealousy).
There's a certain quality that we don't even want to attempt to reduce to a word for fear of ruining or diminishing it .. that 'junky artists' seem to have, not just Basquiat & our brother but other people we know, some still surprisingly alive .. not the typical negative stereotypes people have of drug addicts, but a sensitive & vulnerable (yet conflicted) disposition, laced with an uncompromising broodiness & endearing cynicism. Not sure whether the drugs make them this way, or whether these inherent attributes lead them to addiction. Either way, with this hyper-sensitivity comes pain .. as if their nerves are exposed raw, with no buffer, definitely not thick skinned (melanin or not) .. hence the need to self-medicate. The question is, how do you channel these qualities into art, without killing the artist? Or without exploiting the artist or letting them be victims of themselves? This is perhaps the subject of a whole nother post. Bottom line (for the sake of this primitivist post) is 1. you can't trust artists to characterize themselves. And 2. you can't trust anyone to talk about primitive art (except maybe true primitive people, or children, who can't talk about it yet ....).
But we will continue to embarrass ourself by talking about it, the p-word.
We have more to say about primitivism & feral expressionism, but as promised we want to keep these posts shorter with not so many tangents. So we'll continue this thread later. For now we leave you with 3 failed & unwanted takes from the making of the cover for The Becoming. If you think one is not a failure & can provide a home for it, then it is yours just for asking.
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