That’s me in the pic­ture

The Guardian - Weekend - - Starters Contents -

‘Warhol was ex­actly as you’d ex­pect – calm, clipped, po­lite and very con­trolled. Basquiat looks sullen, but they were jok­ing around’

State Of The Art was a Chan­nel 4 series I made, as a writer, with pro­ducer John Wyver and di­rec­tor Ge­off Dun­lop – the man crouch­ing down on the far right. This was the early days of the chan­nel; six hours of prime­time TV on con­tem­po­rary art wouldn’t hap­pen now. Each episode was the­matic: the fi­nal one, fea­tur­ing Jean-Michel Basquiat, was on iden­tity, cul­ture and power.

We filmed him work­ing and did an in­ter­view in his stu­dio in Great Jones Street, New York. I re­mem­ber us sit­ting in a cafe late one night, wait­ing for him to come home – I’m pretty sure we weren’t the only me­dia peo­ple in there. By 1985, Basquiat had shot to fame. He was still re­garded as an artist con­nected to the Lower East Side mu­sic and stree­tart scene, yet was be­ing ex­hib­ited in

70 16 Septem­ber 2017 | The Guardian Week­end gal­leries. It hap­pened re­ally quickly: I first saw his work in the Times Square Show in 1980, when he was con­sid­ered part of a new gen­er­a­tion of tal­ent, along with Keith Har­ing and Jenny Holzer. His work was strik­ing: it had a graphic qual­ity and a strange­ness, full of words, sym­bols and colour. As a man, he was charm­ing, but enig­matic and a lit­tle guarded. By the time we in­ter­viewed him, he was al­ready swirling in myth.

This photograph was taken by Paula Court shortly af­ter that meet­ing, at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, which was stag­ing a show of Warhol and Basquiat – be­hind us is one of their col­lab­o­ra­tions. It was a sur­real day: the pair were be­ing shot and filmed for the Ja­panese mag­a­zine Bru­tus, and we were film­ing it all. We wanted to cap­ture the buzz around them, to con­vey their fame. Basquiat turned up on a bike 45 min­utes late, and Warhol an hour late. This pic­ture was taken be­tween takes: Ge­off was chat­ting to Basquiat, and I was talk­ing to Warhol. He was ex­actly as you’d ex­pect – calm, clipped, po­lite and very con­trolled. Basquiat looks a bit sullen, but it was a re­laxed morn­ing, and they were jok­ing around.

For me, this photograph cap­tures two of the world’s most out­stand­ing artists at that time, who had be­come close. Warhol was more of a leg­endary fig­ure, us­ing em­blems and signs in his works, but with Basquiat, you could feel the im­me­di­acy of his hands in his art.

State Of The Art was broad­cast in early 1987. Tele­vi­sion crit­ics hated it: with no pre­sen­ter, and its the­matic struc­ture, it was too post­mod­ern for them. Warhol died in Fe­bru­ary that year, and Basquiat in Au­gust 1988, from a heroin over­dose. When an artist dies so young – he was 27 – they leave only so much work, so he has al­ways been col­lectible. The ma­jor­ity of his art is still in pri­vate hands; a few of the col­lec­tors who dis­cov­ered and sup­ported him in the early 80s have hung on to his pieces. When they do come up for auc­tion, they can fetch ex­tra­or­di­nary sums: this May, a 1982 paint­ing of his sold for $110.5m, a record for an Amer­i­can artist.

I was flick­ing through the book of the series re­cently, and in my in­tro­duc­tion to the sec­ond edition of 1990, I noted how much had changed. The Ber­lin Wall had fallen, and Warhol and Basquiat were dead. With­out set­ting out to, we ended up catch­ing an im­por­tant mo­ment.

Basquiat: Boom For Real is at the Bar­bican Art Gallery, Lon­don EC2, from 21 Septem­ber to 28 Jan­uary 2018, bar­bican.org.uk In­ter­view: Han­nah Booth

Are you in a no­table photograph? Email thatsme@the­guardian.com

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