By John A. Barry
Study in ContrastsUploaded: Jan 27, 2014
I recently watched simultaneously "Cutie and the Boxer" and "Jean-Michel Basquiat: the Radiant Child"?respectively about artist couple Ushio and Noriko Shinohara and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Ushio married Noriko 40 years ago, when he was 41 and she 19. For many years she effectively served as her husband's servant as he gained fame (although not fortune), while her art was shunted to the side. The film showcases her coming into her own artistically.
For much of their marriage, Ushio was alcoholic and abusive, yet in spite of the intemperate toll, at age 81 he is schlepping sculptures around in a heavy old suitcase and engaging in his unique form of performance art: punching canvases with boxing gloves capped with paint-soaked foam pads. He can polish off a minimalist pugilistic painting in a few minutes. This octogenarian shows no sign of slowing down.
The film gives no indication of how many works Ushio has produced over the years, but they have been seen in such venues as the Pompidou, in Paris, and New York's Guggenheim Soho. In spite of his fame, however, he and Noriko live in survival circumstances in New York.
Basquiat was discovered when he was just a kid and was dead at age 27. Like Ushio, Basquiat had substance-abuse problems. His drug of choice was heroin, which killed him. Unlike Ushio, Basquiat's art brought him boatloads of money at an early age, as well as fame. He was buddies with Warhol, and artist Julian Schnabel made a 1996 biopic about him, entitled simply "Basquiat." But he lacked the support system afforded to Ushio by Noriko, who stood by her cantankerous husband.
Basquiat started as a graffiti artist and gravitated toward Dadaist/primitive painting and drawings that included text, poetry, and symbols. Although he passed way before his prime, he left a staggering inventory of 1,000 paintings and a like number of drawings.
I topped off those two viewings with one of a 2007 documentary, "My Kid Could Paint That," about a 4-year-old girl in Binghamton, NY, whose finger paintings (possibly completed by her shady dad, an amateur artist) were scooped up by suckers for big bucks. The film is an 80-minute validation of the Warhol/McLuhan maxim: "Art is anything you can get away with."