A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #34 - WEEK OF FEBRUARY 9-15, 2015

Basquiat retro takes the crown

Collaborative efforts with Andy Warhol (background), Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf (centre) are one of the highlights of the Art Gallery of Ontario's Now's the Time, the largest Canadian retrospective of the troubled iconic 1980s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time

Venue: Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West

Dates/Times: Through May 10; Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Wednesdays and Fridays (February 13, 20 and 27) 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.)

Admission/Information: Free with general admission – Adults $19.50, Seniors $16, Students/Youth $11, Child (under 5) and Wednesday nights 6-8:30 p.m. FREE. Call 416-879-6648 or ago.net.

Gallery Review

When graffiti art started to get serious notice in the 1980s and produced major stars on the New York scene, one of its brightest that burned – and suddenly gone all too soon – was Jean-Michel Basquiat of his inspired artistry of abstract expressionism, conceptualism, pop art and classical modernism. Now’s the Time, the first large-scale retrospective of Basquiat in Canada at the Art Gallery of Ontario looms large of the 85 drawings and paintings that defined a decade and continues to influence 25 years after his death.

Taken from the Charlie Parker tune and excerpt from Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech (a looping snippet can be heard in the venue space), the exhibit title and title piece itself done of acrylic and oil paints on wood, show all of its themes on race, politics and art in Reaganite America and narrations on migration, being a Haitian-American and the African-American experience often cutting, often humorous yet fully charged.

A still from the Edo Bertoglin video Downtown 81 with Jean-Michel Basquiat as his graffiti artist provocateur moniker SAMO©, circa 1980-1981.

Early works show a cross of basic child-like, naïveté (“Untitled (Henry Geldzahler”) to full-blown angry young graffiti provocateur (the vérité “Downtown 81” video) better known as SAMO© – short for “same old shit” – in his ability to use whatever materials were at his disposal like the acrylic/oil on burlap mounted on wooden supports, “Untitled/Car Crash,” and turn it into high art.

Reaganite America seen through the canvases of Basquiat in (clockwise from left) "Irony of a Negro Policeman," "The Death of Michael Stewart" and "Obnoxious Liberals."

A majority of his works are usually untitled and some stand out more than others from the socio-political messages seen in “Irony of a Negro Policeman” which is self-explanatory; the exploitation of Africa’s wealth and indictment of the Neo-Con ‘80s for “Obnoxious Liberals” and the real-life statement “The Death of Michael Stewart” to protest the 1983 beating death of a fellow street tagger by New York police officers, which not lost over last year’s racial riots in Ferguson, Missouri and interesting to see it mounted within a gilded frame as to symbolize Stewart’s martyrdom.

While hip-hop came of age in Basquiat’s time and usually associated with him, seen in the images he made for rapper Solomon Emquies’ video “Rodeo (Rammellzee, Toxic-CT and Basquiat, The Rhythm Lounge),” there’s a lot of jazz-centric works here since he idolized bebop pioneers Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in “Horn Players,” mixed-media on paper piece “Alto Saxophone” and “CPRKR,” yet he also paid attention to the roots of American blues on “Natchez” and Beethoven in regard to his Symphony No. 3 in E-flat for “Eroica,” a thoughtful composition riddled with hieroglyphics and symbols in the conceptual graffiti the artist was exploring in his later work.

Jazz-centric works gets shown in Basquiat's homages to bebop legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in "Horn Players" (left) and "CPRKR" (right).

The collaborations are the exceptional highlight of Now’s the Time with his famous joint works with friend Andy Warhol (“Florida,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” “Win $1’000’000,” “Apples and Lemons”) not only as experimentations with lithography, but as the two artisans acting like kids parodying consumerism, materialism and pop art itself, including the vase piece Basquiat did with Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf and the iconic group exhibit poster.

Left-right: Basquiat's topics ranged from homeless American war veterans ("Number 4"), human anatomy ("Untitled") and countering African-American stereotypes ("The Ring").

Wanting to be a cartoonist as a child, the influences are there in “Untitled (Boxer)” and the masterpiece “A Panel of Experts” as a strikingly subversive and violent commentary on racial tensions. The most poignant artwork would be one of his final works “Exu,” based on the Nigerian Yoruba trickster god, with a connection to the tobacco and slave trades of the Americas as well as a metaphor on his untimely exit after heroin overdose at 27.

Amazing that these works still feel refreshingly relevant and contemporary on content and context Now’s the Time expresses and makes one long for real art stars that seem so lacking in abundance nowadays, as one sees the potential Basquiat held had he lived long enough to go even further. But then again, he was one of those artists ahead of their times and now have better appreciation for.

Mystical knight fantasy rusty

Seventh Son (Universal)

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore

Director: Sergei Bodrov

Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Thomas Tull and Lionel Wigram

Screenplay: Charles Levitt and Steven Knight; screen story by Matt Greenberg, based on the Joseph Delaney novel The Spook’s Apprentice

Film Review

Ten years after its publishing debut, Joseph Delaney’s first instalment of his The Wardstone Chronicles series, The Spook’s Apprentice, gets the silver screen treatment as Seventh Son as a medieval fantasy/adventure romp taken on by Prisoner of the Mountains director Sergei Bodrov that kind of falls into a generic actioner with not a lot of surprises on board.

Farm boy Tom Ward (Barnes), a restless young man with knife-throwing abilities and the gift of clairvoyance is bought into the apprenticeship of Master Gregory (Bridges), the last of the sorcerer-like knightly Order of Falcons that defends humanity against the supernatural, revered by many and feared by some as being referred to as The Spook.

Under his tutelage, Tom gets a crash course into the ways of the Order mainly in desperation as they’re out to stop the dark witch queen Mother Malkin (Moore) and her emaciated sister Bony Lizzie (Antje Traue) from regaining their powers by the full blood moon after a century-long hiatus and plunging the world into a reign of darkness.

Battling all sorts of demons and such prior to the main confrontation with the witches and their army of minions, the ward gets torn by his feeling for a mystery maiden Alice Deane (Vikander) in league to Lizzie and Malkin and the rigours of his newfound destiny from the seemingly mad Gregory dealing with his own issues that go deeper and more personal than it looks.

Two-time Academy Award nominee Bodrov sticks to a formulaic direction minus any heavy meditation from a similar film like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings sagas one can muster up, but its weakness lies in the maudlin and wooden script by screenwriters Charles Levitt and Steven Knight that despite some given thrills weigh it all down under the special effects involved.

Bridges’ eccentric persona gives Gregory some character if only he didn’t garble his dialogue with a unconvincing British accent most of the time and there’s a forced chemistry between Barnes and Vikander, not to mention them throwing around the clunkiest romantic talk since the Star Wars prequel trilogy between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, but at least Barnes and Bridges work together better in a comical sense in their clashes and coming together. Moore chews up her scenes and seems to be having more fun being the antagonist along with Djimon Hounsou, Luc Roderique, Zahf Paroo and Kandyse McClure as the evil allies at her side. And why is noted British actress Olivia Williams wasting her talents here as Tom’s mother with secrets bigger than Gregory’s?

Seventh Son feels more like a “pick-up-a-paycheque” project for the cast than trying to garner any real strength for a possible franchise, so it’s lightweight entertainment (if one can call it that with all the action and jeopardy involved that might be a bit too intense for younger viewers) that could have been a bit better.