Basquiat, the Teenage Years?


For fans of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Caroline Goldstein (artnet) reports on a controversial claim by his former friend and collaborator Al Díaz to the SAMO legacy. Her article also points to a trove of previously unpublished photos and prints released by Díaz, offering a glimpse into the life of a teenage Basquiat, who tagged “SAMO” on walls across New York City with high school friend Díaz. Goldstein writes:

Just when it seems like the Basquiat-bonanza has run out of steam, the “same old shit” that inspired the artist’s original graffiti tag is making a comeback.

In the late 1970s, high school friends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Al Diaz sprayed the capitalized letters “SAMO”—an abbreviation for “same old shit”— on walls across New York. The tag was often accompanied by a copyright symbol and brief missives that were critical of mainstream media channels: “SAMO© 4 THE SO CALLED AVANT-GARDE” and “SAMO© 4 MASS MEDIA MINDWASH,” for instance. The letters became a ubiquitous part of the downtown culture, cropping up primarily in the Lower East Side and SoHo, and led to the first wave of publicity for Basquiat, most notably his first appearance on Glenn O’Brien’s underground cable show TV Party.

After a falling out between the two artists in early 1980, Basquiat began to write “SAMO IS DEAD” in place of the original tags, despite the fact that he would continue to use the moniker throughout his evolution as a solo artist. Now, decades after the men parted company, and in the afterglow of Basquiat’s historical auction record, Diaz—a graffiti artist in his own right—is staking a claim to his share in the SAMO© legacy. In a partnership with House of Roulz, Diaz is unleashing a trove of previously unpublished photographs featuring a teenage Basquiat, along with limited-edition prints, enamel pins, and embroidered patches celebrating the iconic logo, according to Dazed.

The collection of prints and accessories dropped in an online event on Thursday. Diaz has been promoting the event on an Instagram page bearing the moniker “samocopyrightdotdotdot.” Although Basquiat’s style and legacy has been mined exhaustively by the fashion industry, this particular iteration comes without the blessing of the artist’s estate, which is known for its hard line on copyright infringement.

Check out the full article and some of the merchandise via artnet.

[Shown above: A vintage photograph of Basquiat, taken by Al Diaz c. 1976, © Al Diaz, via Instagram.]

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