Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S9 E15 | FULL EPISODE

"Basquiat" at the MFA, a Musical Collaboration, and more

This week, a look at the exhibition, “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” at the MFA, a collaboration between musicians Richard Sebring and Charles Overton, to create “Listen, to the Cry of Your Fellow Man,” streaming at the BSO. Plus, Nevada based and classically trained French painter Stephane Cellier and the Wisconsin Artists Biennial at the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

AIRED: October 23, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

and the hip-hop generation that grabbed hold

of the art world.

>> This is a youth movement, and in America,

youth is everything.

>> BOWEN: Then in turbulent times,

two musicians and friends come together.

>> (playing gentle piece)

>> BOWEN: All that and more next onOpen Studio.

First up, in the late 1970s and early '80s,

a group of artists moved from the streets of New York,

where their canvases were subway cars and brick walls,

to the tony confines of exclusive art galleries.

In a new exhibition,

the Museum of Fine Arts charts the course

of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the hip-hop generation.

Blazing off the walls of the Museum of Fine Arts,

the massive paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

He was a New York street artist of the 1970s and '80s

who became a darling of the art world.

Three years ago, one of his paintings sold

for more than $100 million at auction.

Legend, icon, maverick:

he wore all the crowns so frequently depicted in his work

before his young, untimely death.

>> He often gets described as the kind of

sole Black genius, artistically, of the time,

and what we're trying to show

is that he absolutely was an incredibly genius artist,

but he was surrounded by his peers

who were on a similar journey with him.

>> BOWEN: This new exhibition at the MFA

is the first to examine Basquiat

and his fellow artists in the hip-hop generation

who changed the chemistry and sound of New York.

(old-school hip-hop playing)

Rammellzee, Fab 5 Freddy, Basquiat:

they were among a crop

of fresh-faced art world outsiders

from marginalized communities.

But they made New York theirs,

says co-curator Liz Munsell.

They came from many different boroughs--

Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx--

and then they began to converge downtown.

They were getting a little bit older

and they saw this incredible scene of 1980s creatives,

people like Madonna around.

And they became part of this club scene.

>> BOWEN: But before that, they were labeled graffiti artists,

hunted down by police for tagging buildings

and a most prized canvas,

the New York City subway.

Painting subway cars guaranteed

their work would be seen by thousands of people

as trains raced throughout the city.

>> There's a lot of chaos for the eye to see every day.

>> BOWEN: Writer and musician Greg Tate

is the show's co-curator.

He knew most of the artists featured here

when they all began to mix with performers,

filmmakers, and musicians in New York's downtown scene.

(club music playing)

>> This is a youth movement.

And in America, youth is everything.

So whoever is leading that charge is going to win.

>> BOWEN: What the outsiders called graffiti,

the artists simply called writing--

a form Basquiat noted had dated to ancient times,

and what artist Lady Pink said was like calligraphy.

But it was all a language the artists shared.

>> Abstracting it, coding it, crossing it out.

They really, um, in the vein of hip-hop music,

are incorporating really whatever they can

get their hands on and very freely, in an unfiltered way,

getting all of that into their canvases.

>> BOWEN: But these artists wanted off the streets

and into the galleries.

They demanded they be heard and seen.

The art world took notice, and in the U.S., two of them,

Keith Haring and Basquiat, rocketed into the stratosphere.

>> I could see the handwriting on the wall.

It was mine.

I've made my mark in the world,

and it's made its mark on me.

>> BOWEN: Basquiat's work was fueled

by his interest in history,

not to mention the years of museum visits

he'd made with his mother while growing up.

He charted his thoughts in notebooks.

>> I went to a party, went to one party at his house once,

and, um, you know, walked to, um,

walked past his, you know, bedroom

on the way to the, to the loo.

I saw there was,

like, a video ofSuper Fly that was on,

and then, um, you know, and then all these art books stacked up.

So when he wasn't painting, you know,

he was in there just, you know, studying the artists he liked.

>> BOWEN: Basquiat's work is also often populated

by random bits of anatomy.

When he was seven,

he was hospitalized after a car accident

and developed a fascination with the bookGray's Anatomy.

But it's this crown that is most ubiquitous in his work.

>> He said, "My, my work is about three things:

royalty, heroism, and the streets," right?

So he was also,

as someone who had gone to all the major galleries and museums

and didn't see any Black people represented there,

he's letting you know that, um,

you know, his royalty is the street royalty.

>> BOWEN: That reign would extend into the art world,

where Basquiat achieved superstardom.

But in 1988, he died of a drug overdose.

He was only 27, but he'd managed

to see his community of artists get their due.

And beyond that, says Liz Munsell,

they began to influence the A-List artists

they worked to be alongside.

>> Frank Stella, you can, you can see his referencing.

And he also, he also notes that he was looking at graffiti

and trying to find a different surface for his painting

in his late '80s works.

>> BOWEN: It was a hard-fought acceptance.

And for it, this singular group of artists hang together still.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is now streaming a new work

written by two musicians and friends

in response to the racial violence

happening throughout the country.

The piece, for horn and harp, is called

"Listen, to the Cry of Your Fellow Man."

>> (playing slowly and gently)

>> BOWEN: Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us today.

>> Thank you for having us. >> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: I'll start with you, Gus Sebring.

This started with you.

Tell me about the impetus for this composition.

>> Well, I was sitting down to a warm-up at home in my studio

shortly after the George Floyd murder,

and feeling very melancholy and, and quite upset, I guess.

I turned around to the keyboard

and began just improvising and playing a chord progression.

I keep my studio ready to record at all times.

So I just hit record and recorded this thing.

It was just a way of sort of

pouring out my emotions at the time.

Shortly after I heard it,

I guess I was thinking about Charles

and how, how wonderful it would be

if he was playing the harp instead of my keyboard part.

>> BOWEN: Well, Charles Overton, here, Gus reaches out to you.

You have a relationship as friends,

a student-teacher relationship, as well.

What did you, what did you hear

when you first heard his piece?

>> Yeah, I guess the first thing that I'd say I heard

was honesty.

I was pretty deep in thought about, you know,

all the things that were going on,

and when he sent this,

this example of him playing the horn and the keyboards,

I was just, like, "Wow,

"this is the first thing I've heard in all of this

"that just is so clearly from the heart,

"and is so present in the moment,

"and is not seeking to be anything

but what it is."

In all honesty,

it brought me out of a place where I was, like,

I'm excited to make some music again, to make some sound,

to lean into these feelings in a musical way.

>> BOWEN: Well, I was going to ask you about that,

how it was to start your contributions to it.

I have talked to a lot of artists during this pandemic,

and I get a lot of different answers.

Some people say it's really, really hard to work.

Some people say it's impossible.

And then others say what I'm hearing from you both, that,

that they find a way into it.

>> Right, I mean, from my perspective,

it was, it was just super-easy, because, again,

the sound that Gus was creating was so honest.

It was so easy to find my own voice inside of it,

my own way to support his, his beautiful horn playing.

So for this specific collaboration,

yeah, it was, it was just like butter.

(playing soft notes)

>> BOWEN: Well, Gus, I'm really interested in what you said

about, as you're watching this all happen,

you just inherently turn to music.

What does this tell us about you,

or perhaps musicians in general, that,

that that is the outlet that you need

in a time of crisis and anxiety and stress?

>> Well, I guess I, I believe

that the musical language is, is so, so full of nuance.

And you know how there are phrases in other languages

that cannot be translated into English.

I feel like, so strongly that,

that music speaks on such a deep level.

And, you know, when this piece just sort of appeared,

I was more shocked and surprised than anybody.

But I did feel like it was a release of tension of sorts,

but yet the start of a conversation,

and immediately, I thought of Charles, and I thought,

"This just sounds like Charles should be playing this," so...

Yeah, and I, and I feel like, that that really started

this conversation, and it's not so much a conversation

that we need to have in words,

but a sense of deep communication

that we get playing with each other.

>> BOWEN: So, Charles, how do you describe

what your contribution to the piece became?

>> I guess what I felt like I was bringing in a personal way

or a musical way was just this--

and I guess it was present from the beginning, as well--

but just this spirit of improvisation

and being in the moment.

I felt like it was an opportunity

for me to just bring my whole self in a way

that I don't know that I had before.

>> BOWEN: And Gus, I see you nodding.

So when you started to get these elements back,

what did you hear?

>> Well, I mean, I feel the same way about it.

It's one of those pieces that just is not,

is not any work at all to play.

It purely feel, it feels like,

like speaking or something, or singing.

And I feel like there's almost no style of music...

As long as it lies well on horn and harp--

which is a great combination, by the way--

then there's nothing that's, that's outside of our,

our musical palette.

>> BOWEN: Do horn and harp inherently come together?

Charles, I'll let you, you gave me the thumbs up,

so I'll let you field that one. (chuckles)

>> I was just noticing, just the way the instruments

fill the space together is just so natural, and it's a wonder

that it's not a more common combination.

(both playing gently)

>> BOWEN: "Listen, to the Cry of Your Fellow Man,"

the title-- who came up with it?

>> I guess I did.

>> BOWEN: And how did you, how did it come?

>> So I really just thought

that listening both on a personal and a societal level

was gonna be something super- important for us to do as,

you know, just as, just as human beings.

And that especially at that time, and still today,

just to listen to those voices

that might be a little bit more difficult to hear,

that have not been heard,

or even to go so far as silenced, you know, in the past.

>> BOWEN: I understand there's a...

There's an unresolved nature,

a deliberately unresolved nature to the, to the composition.

Tell me about that.

>> Again, how it just sort of ended up,

and I assume that that's just a product of my emotions

at the time that it, that it poured forth.

But when I thought about it,

I thought it really is a question in my mind whether,

whether people can, can truly be empathetic, and whether

they, you know, whether there's a cruel streak in humanity

that, that's required to do an "us and them" scenario,

or whether we can get past that in some way.

And so that's, I think, what lends that, that's...

That's what the questioning nature of the end of

the piece, where it sort of tapers off, um, that way.

It ends in the Lydian mode, which is sort of a

not really settled, almost major, happy, but not...

There's something that's still sort of sharp

or unresolved about it.

>> BOWEN: Well, it was wonderful to listen to.

I thank you both-- Gus Sebring,

Charles Overton,

thank you so much for being with us today.

>> Thank you for having us.

>> Absolutely.

(both playing softly)

>> BOWEN: FromWicked to Alice's Wonderland,

it's time now for Arts This Week.

Sunday, go down the rabbit hole.

White Snake Projects goes virtual

withAlice in the Pandemic,

an operatic adaptation ofAlice in Wonderland.

The Addison Gallery of American Art is open once again

and with free admission.

Tuesday, explore the museum as its exhibitions

pose the question, "What is America?"

The Huntington Theatre Company's audio plays continue

with a mystery based at the Harvard Art Museums.

StreamThe Moment Before the Lights Went Out

on the Rothkos Wednesday.

It's variations on the theme of war

in the Griffin Museum of Photography's

Tours of Duty.

Thursday, see eight photographers'

concentration on conflict.

>> ♪ So if you care to find me

♪ Look to the western sky

>> BOWEN: Friday marks the anniversary

ofWicked's Broadway premiere in 2003.

Based on Gregory Maguire's novel, the Oz-inspired musical

proved to be wicked good.

It's Broadway's fifth-longest- running show.

We move to Virginia City, Nevada, now.

There, classically trained French painter Stephane Cellier

melds past and present using a 15th-century technique

for 21st-century subjects.

>> I'm Stephane Cellier,

and I'm an artist, I'm a painter.

I came from France, like, it was seven years ago now,

because I love United States, so I sold everything I had

in France and came here.

So I paint, I use technique from the Master,

the French Masters,

from the 15th century to now,

like the glazing

I'm using on that one,

the multiple glazing with transparency.

So like the grisaille,

I painted black and white first and add the colors on the top,

with transparency, so different kind of techniques like that.

I work on the wood panel, and usually,

I paint subject that are more modern

with classical techniques.

So it looks really classical, but when you take the time

to watch it, it's a little bit different.

I get that training in France

when I was in the French National Fine Arts School.

The real first step,

it's the creation of the design,

so I've got some image that appears in my brain--

that's why my wife think I'm nuts.

She's probably right.

I look at pictures, I try to find pictures to see

how I can create my composition.

And first step is to create the design,

so I can create my design, and after that, I start to draw.

I just draw

and painting, painting, painting.

So I will start with a dead layer

to put the, very quickly, the light and shadow,

how it will look,

and after that, I will add layers and layers and layers,

and I build the painting.

It builds almost like a sculpture.

You add layers and layers and layers

to build the shape, because everything we see,

it's because of the light.

So the shape is created by the light, so you need to add

layers and layers and layers to create all the small differences

in the light that create the shape.

It's a long, long process.

I will add layers

with transparency,

a little bit like

when you use, um, sunglasses,

different kind of colors,

so they will blend together like filters,

and you change till you obtain

the transparency and the texture of the skin.

Sometime, there is, like this one,

there is around 50 different layers

to create the texture on the, on the skin,

and the, the transparency, the light inside.

It's hard to stop, because when you are in this process,

you are in another world, there is nothing else around you,

and you work with the inside of yourself,

of your, your deep thought.

It's just a conversation with your soul, that's all.

You are with yourself, and you talk to yourself,

and you want to have a message in that painting.

You want to put the emotion

you feel when you paint on the palette and on the painting.

It's really a meditation process.

In my painting,

I try to express something that disturb me or something I like.

And sometime, what I like, it's when the people who will,

the viewer who will see the painting,

they will try to find a message about me,

but usually they will find something about themself.

That's what I like.

So, it reflects more what people think about it,

about the message I really put in that,

because my vision is completely different, probably.

All the viewer will have an opinion, different opinion

of that painting-- that's my goal.

So it's more like a mirror.

They can see what they, what are their real deep thought

and who they are.

So I want people to feel something.

Even if they don't like it, and they say,

"Oh, it's disgusting,"

it's okay-- there is an emotion, it works.

So, yeah, that's what I want.

>> BOWEN: Finally now, we wind our way

to the 2020 Wisconsin Artists Biennial,

a showcase of the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

>> The Museum of Wisconsin Art is a institution

that's been around since 1961,

and our focus is 100% on the art and artists of Wisconsin,

not only historically, but also, as the case here

with the biennial,

very much with the contemporary artists of Wisconsin.

2020 is the fourth year that we have done the biennial

in our new building.

We are the permanent hosts, so it's a collaboration

between us and Wisconsin Visual Artists

to do this every two years.

When the jurors select the artwork,

which they do digitally,

they came in with 42 works

by 39 artists.

You will see literally all, all manner of media.

You will see traditional photography,

video,

conceptual work.

You will see two-dimensional,

three-dimensional.

You will see sculpture.

But what was interesting this year

is, out of the 39 artists that were selected,

19 of them were actually first time being accepted

into the biennial, which I think speaks volumes

for what an attractive exhibition it is.

The way the gallery's laid out is that there will constantly

kind of be surprises.

That's really what artists are bringing to the table, is,

they're bringing their different perspectives on the world,

on issues within their own lives,

issues nationally, issues even internationally,

so just because it's a Wisconsin biennial,

the parameters of the show go far beyond the state.

The first-place prize was Nina Ghanbarzadeh.

She's originally from Iran.

She works very much with the pen as black and white,

and they're very subtle works.

You've really gotta get close to them,

and they're about current political issues.

Xiaohong Zhang, who is from China,

her work, the three round pieces,

they're about water,

and, you know, that's a, that's a global issue.

I really enjoy Martha Coaty's photographs.

I mean, they're just very subtle, beautifully composed,

and she's an artist we've watched for several years.

One of the great things about the biennial

is, you get introduced to younger artists,

or artists that you're not familiar with,

and you can kind of follow their work, so you can see

how an artist's work develops over the years.

>> The previous winner of the last biennial

gets a solo exhibition.

It's an opportunity to elaborate on the work that they had done

that placed them at the vanguard of art in Wisconsin.

So this year, we have

Mark Klassen, who was the 2018

top prize winner for the biennial.

He won with a piece called Air Conditioner,

which is also in his solo exhibition.

The exhibition is entitled Combustible Dust.

>> The title of Combustible Dust

that everything around us has the potential of harming us

in some way, as these sort of

subtle anxieties that we have

about our environment or our world.

>> Mark Klassen primarily works with sculpture, and many,

if you encounter them on a day-to-day basis,

you might overlook them.

They're a sort of interesting update

of thetrompe l'oeil tradition,

meaning "fool the eye,"

which has traditionally been associated with painters.

What's unique about Mark's take on this is that

he's doing it with sculpture.

So he has a virtuosic command of wood that allows him

to fool us into thinking that

this is actually an air conditioner,

this is actually a foam finger.

>> The nature of making art

and making these objects out of wood,

you are studying these objects,

and you're applying some craft and attention

to figure out how to deconstruct a commercially made object

and then re-create that object in wood.

I think they look a bit like

clip art, because they don't have that

kind of fine patina of a real object.

They look like an oversimplified version of that,

of whatever that object is

that I'm creating out of wood.

It's a really great opportunity to exhibit

in this kind of capacity for an artist,

particularly because

it's only in a solo exhibition where you get

kind of the breadth of somebody's work.

>> I think that people will

enjoy the occasional challenge in trying to interpret

what Mark was going for and how it relates

to the overall thematics of the exhibition.

I'm proud of the diversity of works,

of artists' backgrounds,

of the media that they're working with,

of the themes, of their relationship to art history.

It's a really rich cross-section

of what's happening in the state.

>> People are appreciative that there is a museum

whose main focus is to care about what they actually do

and what they produce here in the state of Wisconsin.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, the photographers documenting

the defining images of our time.

Plus the rare historic images of men in the love

that dare not speak its name.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioGBH.

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