Paige Powell on Photographing Basquiat

Pin It
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Reclining Nude by Paige Powell
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Reclining Nude by Paige Powell

Photographer Paige Powell remembers her two-year relationship with Jean-Michel Basquiat

Paige Powell moved to New York exactly five days after John Lennon was shot in 1980. Determined to work for Interview magazine or Woody Allen, the ambitious arts graduate secured positions with both in less than a month. Powell was swiftly accepted into Andy Warhol’s inner Factory circle and became an Associate Publisher at Interview, where she was a contributing photographer and writer. By 1983 she was dating the Haitian-American painter and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat who joined the Factory clique and formed a fast friendship with its enigmatic leader. Warhol wrote about Basquiat and Powell’s first date in his diary on August 9th, 1983: “They went out to Brooklyn to a black neighbourhood and went to a White Castle and had eight hamburgers and then two people came in with big sticks and they thought they were going to kill them.” Powell’s own memories of their first meeting are a little different. She told AnOther, “I was talking about his work with Jay Shriver (Andy Warhol's technical assistant and my boyfriend at the time) and he said he would introduce us. We went over to Jean-Michel's loft on Crosby Street together and I remember getting off the elevator and Jean-Michel walking right into me like a magnet. We started talking about the show I was planning and he got really excited.”

"I remember getting off the elevator and Jean-Michel walking right into me like a magnet"

More than twenty years after that first magnetic meeting, Powell is revisiting her relationship with Basquiat and sharing her personal candids of the artist in the exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat, Reclining Nude. The show is the first mounting of Powell’s extensive photography archive; an impressive collection of snaps that chronicle the significant cultural transformation of art and culture in America and, in Powell’s own words, “shows various, unique glimpses into the art world of the ‘80s.” Taken on her 35mm Canon camera, the archive is being catalogued by Pink Martini musician Thomas Lauderdale who Powell credits with making the show happen. “The entirety of my archival materials would still be boxed up in cabinets if it weren't for him,” she says. Together they have begun sorting through what she describes as; “an overwhelming amount of slides, prints, videos, photographs, negatives, ephemera and contact sheets – I didn't know where to begin, so it was suggested that I start with just focusing on the images of Jean-Michel.”  The result is a series of nude portraits showing Basquiat in his natural state both literally and figuratively; relaxed and content, the artist is seen drawing and watching cartoons on Powell’s futon. During their two year relationship, Powell often exhibited her then-boyfriend’s work at her old Upper West Side apartment, and several of Basquiat’s paintings can be seen on the walls of her living room in the photographs she took of him.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Reclining Nude by Paige Powell opens today at The Suzanne Geiss Company, New York and runs until February 22.

Paige Powell is a photographer, curator, and animal rights activist. She lives and works between Portland, New York, and Los Angeles, and is in the beginning phase of organizing her extensive archive of photographs.

Text by Frankie Mathieson