The first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, presented at the Barbican, is sold out and will close on 28 January 2018. It focuses on the artist as much as on the era and context Basquiat worked and lived in. Basquiat’s sisters, Lisane and Jeanine Basquiat said: “We are delighted to be working with the Barbican on this important exhibition, which is so long overdue”. They’re right, the exhibition is both powerful and successful, both curatorially and through the public eye.
A prolific artist, Basquiat drew, painted, graffitied, starred in films such as Downtown 81 with Blondie’s Debbie Harry, and performed in his experimental band Gray. He collaborated with other artists, most famously with Andy Warhol, created murals and installations for notorious New York nightclubs.
French photographer, artist, and designer Maripol, who recently designed a jewellery and t-shirt collection with Marc Jacobs, produced Downtown 81 and chronicled the NY underground art scene of the 80s. Studio 54, Warhol’s factory, Keith Haring, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, Klaus Nomi and many more artists were all photographed by Maripol.
She moved to NY in 1976 and became art director of the fashion brand Fiorucci. By the mid-80s, Maripol had achieved success with her own store, Maripolitan, located in the NoHo area of New York. Best known for styling Madonna during the Madonna and Like a Virgin albums, Maripol’s trademark black rubber bracelets, jewellery and crucifixes became as iconic as the Pop Queen herself in these early years. At the same time she directed documentary films, such as Crack is whack on Keith Haring. She has been the art director on music videos for Cher, D’Angelo, and Elton John.
In 2014, Maripol released “MARIPOLA X”, a book about her erotic Polaroids and published “Love Each other”, her first record as singer with the French composer and producer Léonard Lasry which followed her collaboration with the French fashion label Each x Other.
On the occasion of the last few days of Boom for Real at the Barbican, Maripol talks to Art is Alive about her friend Basquiat, Instagram, her favourite artists, her future projects and… Madonna.
What is your take on the exhibition?
It’s very interesting because I discover a lot of new things. I generally know almost all of Jean-Michel’s works, worldwide, because I’m always asked in one way or another to contribute or take part in the exhibitions of his work – as you can imagine the fact that I knew Jean-Michel, that I made a cult film with him, with Edo Bertoglio and Glenn O’Brien, it sticks to you. It’s normal to be asked to play a part in it and this allows me to know his work very well. I think the Barbican show is interesting to the people who see it, probably more than me.
I knew this era, I was there, I lived it and I knew who he was but it’s fascinating to see his evolution in the exhibition, to see him on film, alive and young. It’s not a painting show, and I always say to museums and curators: we have to see him; that’s why the show is so successful here at the Barbican because it doesn’t focus on the paintings only. I suggested to add videos, images, archival material, portraits; even his voice is featured in the downstairs room where his note books are presented. I found and rediscovered them, because we used them for the film. We can listen to the recordings of Jean-Michel reading the verses of the Genesis, we see him live and we see him evolve in his creative environment. It’s a rare opportunity to see works that have never been shown before, as well as his incredible technique.
Do you see any parallels between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jean Dubuffet?
It’s funny you’re asking because my friend agnès b. told me about the fantastic Jean Dubuffet exhibition at the Pace Gallery in London which took place around the same time as this exhibition.
A few years ago, Christie’s NY commissioned me to lend my voice for a film on one of Dubuffet’s works which was included in their auction sale. It was a large painting depicting a busy city, with a lot of different elements, an organised chaos… In answer to your question, I don’t really see the Dubuffet inspiration in Jean-Michel’s work. I’d rather see Keith Haring, Cy Twombly with the movement or even Pablo Picasso.
Was it easy to photograph Basquiat?
We cast him when he was 19 year-old for Dowtown 81 and he practically imposed his presence because the original actor didn’t show up to the screening tests.
Was he looking for fame?
Oh yes absolutely. He even said to his father once: “Dad I’m famous!”. We see the word famous written in one of the early works. He aspired to be famous and rich; these notions always go together.
Are you nostalgic of these years?
Not at all, I’ve got no nostalgia of these years. I don’t regret anything, I’m moving forward, people always ask me about the 80s but I continue to work today. I’ve recently done a campaign with Dior, so I actually create new things. You should go to New Bond Street, you’ll see the windows of the Dior store, featuring my artwork. At night it’s beautiful. My photos illustrate the Winter collection. I’ve just made the campaign film and the Instagram visuals with Léonard Lasry. In it, I sing and illustrate the music and lyrics with images. I’m rarely asked about my current and future works you know…It’s always the 80s. [Maripol shows her film for DIOR].
When you took these pictures in the 80s, did you expect all these talents to become who they became today or was it just accidental, unsconscious?
When Madonna came to see me in the very early stages of her career, to style her Like A Virgin look, I didn’t question anything but I knew, I saw that she was very talented and ambitious. I didn’t think this way, I didn’t ask myself if the photos would have any value, in the cult sense. I was a bit like you, a bit like a journalist, a visionnaire, I had an eye for observing things, that’s all. I’d even say I was more of a voyeur.
I’d say that for both Basquiat and Madonna, the fact that I’m French appealed to them. When I first came to the US, I had the eye of a journalist, everything was new and different to me. It’s normal, when you’re thrown into a different culture, everything is surprising, everything’s a curiosity. We see things in a different way.
Did Madonna lend works for this exhibition?
But she doesn’t have any artworks. She has a drawing and I think I gave it to her.
Do you have works by Basquiat?
Yes I do, but no one asked me for them. I’ve got drawings. Maybe for the next exhibition.
Are you planning new films?
Features you mean? I wrote a script, it’s the story of my life, when I arrived in NY. I had a producer but it didn’t work out. I’m looking for a new producer.
Do you still work with Madonna and are you friends still?
Yes we are. I’m more in touch with her management and I’m always invited to her concerts. But you know, she lives in a different planet. We follow each others but she’s not the young Madonna I knew anymore and whom I miss deeply. I haven’t changed. And you know, there’s something I don’t understand, this bizarre side of America – and that’s probably because I’m European – but I think there’s a “machination” around Hollywood stars, overprotected by the system and their agents who make the artists unreachable, unattainable, while actually they’re not. Sometimes it’s a matter of coming back to reality! That’s it, come back to this planet please. [laughs].
Was Basquiat a friend or a subject?
Oh no, a close friend, he lived with us. My name is Mathilde, the name of his mother, it was the name of my grandmother, my second name, I was some kind of mother hen for all these young artists. I had a maternal protective side; I did not want these kids hanging out on the street. We had a loft in downtown NY and it was the centre of creativity.
Did you notice at the time that Basquiat would become the artist that he has become thanks to his gesture, his attitude?
It’s funny, in these times, I did not ask myself about the future, it was all about living the moment. We were happy the day he got his cover of the New York Times. We had a big dinner to celebrate. We went to the headquarters of the New York Times together to pick up the copies. You have to imagine that he was one of the first black artists on the cover. It was amazing!
Have you ever met Warhol?
Yes of course, he was a friend, he was so nice. Together with Keith Haring, we went to Madonna’s wedding with Sean Penn.
Who are your favourite contemporary artists these days?
I collect a bit and this really helps me. It makes me happy. I never buy to speculate though. I like the work of Taylor McKimens, American artist, Jo Grillo too. I’m not entirely in the contemporary art scene. I’m close with Kenny Sharf who deserves a museum show. There’s a lot of speculation on dead artists of this era too, but there’s a lot of artists who are still alive and who deserve more attention. I love going to galleries, I love Pace. I recently saw the Julian Schnabel show at Pace. The works are a bit expensive but I love the artist.
And why did you move to Los Angeles?
I had enough of NY, I love the sunshine of L.A. Everything’s new in L.A, everything is there, everything exists there, the artists live there. It’s easier for me to concentrate than in NY where the rhythm is somehow too fast now. L.A is zen, it’s a different life: flowers, birds, fresh fruits etc. [laughs]
Do you come to London a lot?
Not at all, I came for Dior two months ago because that’s when the launch of the campaign took place and I took the Polaroids. I love London though, I used to come when I was 16, I was still at school. London is where I learnt English. I used to go to Oxford, hang out in Seditionaries by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood on Kings Road. I used to work at the King Road Hotel where Leonard Cohen stayed when he came to London. As I was a maid, I even cleaned his room, I was young and this is an emotional moment. London was definitely a stepping stone to go to NY.
Do Museums ask for your photos and which one are you most proud of?
Not enough. I lent some for the Keith Haring exhibition presented in Paris at the Musée de la Ville. I even organised a dinner with Madonna and Jean Paul Gaultier at home for the opening. It was fun! I’m actually looking for a foundation or collector to digitize and save all my Polaroids. It’s hard work. I’ve just moved to L.A and I have a studio to make that happen although all the photos are still in NY. I’d love the V&A to own my collection for example. I don’t want this to happen when I’m dead.
I’m proud of all of them. I arranged the selection with Eleonore (Nairne), the curator of the exhibition. The photos definitely reflect the era and the context in which Jean-Michel evolved.
Is there a medium you’d like to develop more?
I used to draw a lot, and I like to experiment with a lot of media. I write a lot of poetry, I paint, I create music and lyrics with my poems. I’m always active. When you’re a painter, you decide to be a painter and you need to spend a lot of time in your studio. Maybe when I’ll be older.
Do you use Instagram and do you think that’s an interesting platform for photography?
It’s interesting but I started quite late. I’m taking my time with it and my son helps me a lot. He advises me on what to post, what to avoid. When I posted the Dior video, suddenly I got 850 hits and it was crazy. You know I’m old-school and I’m starting slowly.
Who would you have dreamt to photograph?
David Bowie. I tried once and he said to me: “No, no darling” with his English charm. I shouldn’t have asked him and just snapped him but you know I was not a paparazzi.
Do you still go to Paris and what are your next projects?
Yes I do, Milan first and then Paris. I’m not looking for more projects, I have an agent and he helps me. And when you have a good client, you don’t need more. I’m faithful.
I’m preparing an exhibition in L.A around street art. I love the recent interpretation of Basquiat by Banksy, near the Barbican. It’s on my Instagram!
I’m in talks with agnès b. who is interested in showing my originals. I admire her so much. I may shoot the behind-the-scenes of her next show.
I’m not sure you realize that you’re a legend?
No I don’t, for me I’m just who I am…
Madonna, Madonna and Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry. Copyright Maripol.
Maripol at the Barbican, by Nicolas Smirnoff.