The assassination of President Kennedy and the subsequent murder of Oswald were both captured on film and were among the first historical events to be broadcast internationally. In the years following, as modern culture embraced the cult of the image, pictures of the main protagonists were ubiquitous. Lee Harvey Oswald was assimilated into the nation’s collective consciousness as the ultimate icon of criminality. Basquiat, always intrigued by Oswald, was fully aware of this; in his street artist persona SAMO© Basquiat once created a fifteen-foot long multiple choice graffiti which asked:
WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING IS OMNIPRESENT?
[ ] LEE HARVEY OSWALD
[ ] COCA-COLA LOGO
[ ] GENERAL MELONRY
[ ] SAMO©...
The text embedded in the present work directly references the graffiti that first brought Basquiat to the attention of the Manhattan art scene. It combines with the primitive, almost child-like rawness of the drawn lines to give the work a very visceral immediacy. At the same time as embracing the urban art of his origins Lee Harvey Oswald alludes to traditions of ‘high’ art as Basquiat scrutinises the predominance of the image in modern culture. The drawn on frame makes real the supposed ‘framing’ of Oswald whilst referencing and challenging the modern visual culture that has confined Oswald to the ‘frame’ of an image. In this Lee Harvey Oswald brilliantly embodies Basquiat’s consistent preoccupation with the universal questions of identity and representation.
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