Al Diaz Recalls Work from Basquiat's Early Days

In a recent letter, Diaz remembers a tarp tagged by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which comes to auction in Capsule's Postwar and Contemporary Art sale, and explains why it is unmistakably the work of the "radiant child."

Words by
Al Diaz
Published on
November 10, 2022

I was first made aware of the plastic tarp SAMO piece in February, 2020. Lisa Serina Strautmanis had sent me a message via social media inviting me to see the piece and another SAMO tag that was written on the wall of her late brother Vincent's bedroom. Lisa was interested in having me verify that the tags were in fact actual SAMO writings done either by myself or Jean-Michel Basquiat. She mentioned that she recalled us stopping by to visit Vincent at the 69 Greene Street loft. Both Jean-Michel and I were acquainted with the Strautmanis siblings going back to 1977 or 1978 and had met them through mutual friends. Although I was friendly enough with the Strautmanis', Jean-Michel seemed to have a closer relationship to Vincent, and would stop by their loft from time to time.

The Strautmanis siblings were raised in Soho and TribeCa during the 1970s. Part of a small community of kids we referred to as "art brats." Lisa described an area where their father (a painter) had his studio sectioned off with plastic sheeting. One could see into the work area but the sheeting served as a barrier. I remember visiting the loft but it was very long ago, and could not recall details of the event. After several months and a few failed attempts to meet at the loft, I received a message from Lisa stating that the piece had gone to auction via her sister in law Mary Ellen (Vincent's widow), and I could no longer have access to seeing the piece. I did however see photos of the plastic tarp SAMO writing.

The writing to my eye, appears to be Jean-Michel Basquiat's handwriting of our SAMO "logo" in a very clear, all caps lettering. The copyright symbol which was part of our "logo" appears to be placed correctly as well as proportionately. I imagine this writing was done with available paint and brush from Mr. Strautmanis' studio.

I would compare this particular SAMO writing with another brush rendered SAMO tag that has been documented by academic researcher, Henry Flynt. The writing appears very similar and consistent with his manner of writing SAMO during that period (circa 1978). The spacing, height and overall quality seem completely correct. In my opinion this particular writing was undoubtedly created by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Courtesy of Al Diaz

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