As the MFA show by Jean Michel Basquiat will have ended by the time I publish this article, I want to ensure that the content remains relevant. Therefore, please enjoy these original photographs of the MFA Boston Exhibition “Writing the Future” Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” (on view from October 18, 2020–July 25, 2021 at the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery) accompanied by quotes by Jean Michel Basquiat. All photographs unless otherwise noted were taken by Christine O’Donnell for Thoughts on Art. 

Quotes by Jean Michel Basquiat & Writing the Future

These photographs will be punctuated with quotes by Jean Michel Basquiat. Perhaps they will help us answer, “Who was Jean Michel Basquiat?” by allowing us to see a different side of him: through both his paintings and through his words. 

Untitled, 1983 & Fun Fridge

Quotes by Jean Michel Basquiat and his Museum of Fine Arts Boston Exhibition
Installation view: Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Basquiat, Untitled 1983 (background). Basquiat, Dondi, ERO, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Keith Haring, Lady Pink, Eric Haze, LA2, Rammellzee, Kenny scarf, Tseng Kwong Chi & others artists, Untitled (Fun Fridge),  (foreground)

“The more I paint the more I like everything.”  — Jean-Michel Basquiat

Basquiat’s piece above, Untitled (1983) inspired him to explain about the piece (per the gallery label at the MFA),

“I was trying to paint a very urban landscape… I tried to paint like the Lower East Side and what it was like to live there and you know… Spanish things from the neighborhood and like…. I don’t know, bodegas, images and stuff like that.”

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes
Basquiat, Untitled (1983)

“I cross out words so you will see them more; the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.” – Jean Michel Basquiat

Regarding his use of text in his paintings, he also is quoted as saying:

“There are about 30 words around you all the time, like ‘thread’ or ‘exit.’”  — Jean-Michel Basquiat

This environmental inspiration is an interesting concept: Basquiat was pulling the words in his pieces directly from life as he painted. What words surround us? What did he keep? What did he scratch out and why?

Campbell’s Soup Train, 1980

Fab 5 Freddy’s Campbell’s Soup train, a collaboration with Lee Quiñones dates to 1980. A recent Artnews article interviews the two artists and discusses its significance – one of which is “Campbell’s Soup directly contradicted the racist assumption that graffiti art was unmoored from art history, proving that muralism on trains had its pulse on every corner of its metropolis: this train was rooted in myriad cultural and artistic influences, including but absolutely not limited to the canon of contemporary art, art history, comic book culture, and commercial design.” — Liz Munsell and Greg Tate

Check out the whole article HERE

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes
Basquiat was of the same mindset: he knew his art history, he knew what he wanted to say. A famous adage is “You have to know the rules to be able to break them.” Basquiat knew the rules, he just chose to transcend.

“I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.” –  Jean-Michel Basquiat

Ransom Note, CEE, 1984

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes
Toxic, Ransom Note CEE, 1984, Spray paint on canvas

“Graffiti has a lot of rules in it as to what you can do and what you can’t do, and I think it’s hard to make art under those conditions.” — Jean-Michel Basquiat

ERO, 1984

The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.”
— Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Jean-Michel Basquiat, ERO, 1984 Acrylic, oil stick and Xerox collage on canvas

The gallery label says it all here (and is fascinating!): “Basquiat portrays ERO (Dominique Philbert) in dual perspective at the height of his short but standout art career. ERO (“Ever Rocking On”) was one of the youngest talents of the post-graffiti movement. He exhibited at Fun Gallery at just fifteen and was featured in many foundational post-graffiti exhibitions alongside Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, and others. Here the collaged element, xeroxed from a drawing, recalls the notebooks in which Basquiat, ERO and others tested out writings and compositional strategies before migrating them onto canvas. Its repetition of the word “CARBON” — the elemental basis for drawing tools such as graphite and charcoal– alludes to both artists’ creative calling.”

“I am not a black artist, I am an artist.”  — Jean-Michel Basquiat

Please, let us all remember this quote. We don’t think of white artists as such – give artists of other races the same grace to be individuals instead of a representative of their ethnic identities.

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Installation Shot, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“I start a picture and I finish it. I don’t think about art while I work. I try to think about life.”  — Jean-Michel Basquiat

Six Crimee, 1982

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Six Crimee, 1982, Acrylic and lipstick on Masonite, three panels
I will again proffer the words of the illustrious MFA curators as they know much more than me, and write so eloquently about this piece, Six Crimee. “In this depiction of six unnamed “partners in crime” (crimee in street parlance) Basquiat portray these friends’ faces in crude strokes of black paint, obscuring their features to conjure the rampant racial profiling of Black youth. The halo or crown of thorns above each signals both the innocence of Black men and the threat of violent, racist attacks they face in this country. This reality would weigh heavily on Basquiat the following year, with the brutal murder of artist Michael Stewart at the hands of the police– a tragedy that prompted him to realize, “It could have been me.” 

“Believe it or not, I can actually draw.” — Jean-Michel Basquiat

Selected Fab 5 Freddy Haring and LA2 Pieces

I haven’t always been a huge Haring fan, but his work continues to grow on me (as does Basquiat’s!). The dedication to the craft, as well as a recognizable style that works on multiple supports makes Haring’s pieces particularly memorable additions to Writing the Future. Here are a few examples.

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Fab 5 Freddy, Keith Haring LA2 and other artists, Untitled (Window) about 1985, Mixed media on glass
Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Top: LA2, Haring, Untitled (Yellow and Black), 1982 Paint and enamel on wood board Bottom: LA2, Alarmclock part I Alarmclock part II, both 1985, Marker on Masonite
Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Installation shot
Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Keith Haring Graffiti Pillar, Detail

Untitled (Football Helmet), 1981-84

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition

A multi-media piece, this was a surprise to find in the exhibition. For those who can’t read the tiny print on the photograph, here’s the text from the museum label:

“Basquiat’s practice moved fluidly between disciplines, collapsing the boundaries between painting, drawing, sculpture, fashion, performance, writing and music. He expressed his fascination with celebrity by both depicting sports heroes and famous musicians in his two-dimensional works and by masterfully styling himself in performances and everyday life. He wore this helmet in a number of early performance-based collaborative works.”

“Since I was seventeen I thought I might be a star. I’d think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix… I had a romantic feeling about how these people became famous.”  — Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Writing the Future: Installation shot

“Fire will attract more attention than any other cry for help.” — Jean-Michel Basquiat

Rammellzee’s Samurai and more

The final room, painted all black with a samurai costume at the center was certainly a showstopper. Check out a few shots from it!

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Masks by LA2
Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition
Installation shot, Keith Haring and LA2 Vase


Certainly Rammellzee’s Samurai and his pyramid urn were the show-stoppers (out of respect I haven’t included a photograph of the mirrored pyramid containing his remains, which he requires be displayed anytime his art is displayed!)

Jean Michel Basquiat Quotes and MFA Exhibition

Rammellzee’s Samurai


This whole show brings added credibility to graffiti and the post-graffiti movement as real art historical trends that deserve collecting and study. I applaud the curators, and hope that the addition of quotes by Jean Michel Basquiat have added a bit of extra insight and enjoyment to this (alas, incomplete) collection of works from the show.

For more on art trends, be sure to check out the Art Week in Miami: Trends article where we update what we see in current art trends every year!

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