The Wax Conspiracy

Widow Basquiat: A Love Story by Jennifer Clement

We're reading through two biographies here. One of the muse. One of the artist. Between them, a song in those seconds their lives intertwine. Its rhythm is a melody of watching it never quite fall apart. Even when it should have.

Widow Basquiat: A Love Story is a smattering, a collection of images, a phrase of memories around the time that follows the scene painted by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Muse and lover Suzanne Mallouk there by his side and with a raw reflection on what else was going on during the heady phase.

Of it, Jennifer Clement's writing smokes it through a poetic veneer. There's a mystic touch in its fluid presence. The moments that choose to shine through painting as much in vivid colour as Basquiat once did on the canvas proper. There is a breeze as you turn the pages. It's gentle, light-footed, but behind it all there is a knowing of the weight it bears. Beautiful in its stride.

Every other vignette seems to revel in the fetching and snorting of heroin. It's not glamorised, or made romantic, it's just there. Snorting so much, Basquiat develops a new hole in his nose. It's frank and rather bleak in how often they get high. Halfway through the book it looks as if they're all going to overdose and spend the remainder eulogising.

She takes him to the bathroom, undresses him and puts him in the tub. She washes his hair and scrubs his skin, being very careful not to hurt his sore arms. This is a body she no longer knows.

Deft touch then as we bring it back and focus on the intense relationship that exists between Basquiat and Mallouk. Tumultuous, yes. But so tied to each other as they were it's a pity there was so much noise with all the other people in the way of it. Then again, through that noise, they were able to hear each other as if there was no one else in the room. And the pauses make you feel that connection.

Each passage of time introduces shakier ground, the atmosphere, the state, the people that circle around them. It's fraught and the tension of the romance period building up to something that never quite holds is always there. It's a delicate thing. The slow destruction mixed with a rapid rise and descent. Fear tints it all. Both of the Basquiat's own darling inadequacies and second-guessing coming up through the art world and of the artist and muse relationship. There one day sprawled out on a canvas, living under a table the next.

It's not a straight forward narrative, as much as snippets of the mind allow, but there is a linear progression as you follow Basquiat before too becoming another one of those dead at 27.

It is still Mallouk's story by far. Clement may dress the frame, but Mallouk bares the voice and nothing escapes the pain that comes from living in those moments.

That's why I always had a problem knowing if I was really special to him. I still sometimes don't know. Other people tell me I was. He once told me that the only women he had ever loved were me and Jennifer Goode. I accepted it.

Sadness lies there in Widow Basquiat, sitting underneath the coats in the hallway closet. You listen to the heartbreaking path of pebbles rocking the little pond between these two and you feel the breaths leave you in a slow, silent sigh. Not an ounce of aching but for the journey.

Back cover of Widow Basquiat
Widow Basquiat from Broadway Books

The publisher provided a review copy.

Ethan Switch

Reviewed on Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Wax Conspiracy


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