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Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Polaroids
Jean-Michel BasquiatPhotography Andy Warhol, via

Glimpse some rare Basquiat sketches he once gifted to a friend

A book inscribed with private, never-before-exhibited drawings by Basquiat is now on display

A unique and rare piece of Jean-Michel Basquiat ephemera featuring never-before-exhibited drawings has gone on display in an online exhibition. A copy of the seminal 1986 mixology handbook Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails: More Than 300 Famous Cocktails by Harry MacElhone, annotated with hand-drawn illustrations by the celebrated artist and gifted to his friend, Randy Gun, has gone on display for the first time. 

Premiering the precious artefact publicly in an online exhibition with JGC Fine Art, Gun has opened up about how he came to be in possession of this treasure and his memories of the enigmatic artist. 

Gun, a scenester and musician, was bartending at the Great Jones Cafe in Manhattan in the mid-1980s when he struck up a friendship with Basquiat. The artist was renting a studio from Andy Warhol at 57 Great Jones Street, across the road from the bar where Gun was working. In an interview on the gallery’s website, Gun recalled: “(Basquiat) came in when we weren’t really open yet. I would be setting up between 3 and 4 (pm). If anyone else tried to come in, I would ask them to come by a little later. But when Jean-Michel came by, I’d let him in… He would have a margarita, straight up.”

Inscribed in Basquiat’s distinctive handwriting: “To Randy, the best bartender in NY”, this personal memento of the pair’s friendship allows us a glimpse into the artist’s private world. Reminiscing about that legendary era in New York history when “the city never slept”, Gun goes on to explain how the two introverts gradually got to know one another: “At setup time, he’d have his own private bartender - me - and would be undisturbed. If he wanted to talk, we’d talk; if he didn’t want to talk, we wouldn’t talk. He knew he could have his privacy there, because I wasn’t going to bother him.  He wasn’t a pain in the ass, back then I thought everyone was a pain in the ass. I surely wouldn't have let him in during this meditative early prep time before opening, if he had been annoying…”

The annotations in the cocktail book recall the rune-like symbols and text that appear throughout Basquiat’s work. One page featuring variations on the word “EROICA” features in several of his later paintings. Art writer David Ebony muses on the significance of the recurring word, suggesting, “That’s ‘heroic’ in Italian, but maybe a reference to Beethoven’s third symphony, the Eroica?” 

During this period in Basquiat’s life, the pair often discussed their mutual problems with addiction and Gun would offer advice to the artist. He recalled, “I knew the pain he was experiencing if he was trying unsuccessfully to stop. That he came back to visit at the bar after I encouraged him to stop drugging is a testament to his being open to the possibility of change at that time.” 

Yet, despite his struggle, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988, aged just 27, at his apartment across the road from Gun’s bar. His untimely death came only a year after he presented Gun with this customised edition of Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, and the book remains a touching testament to this fleeting but treasured friendship. “This was a personal gift given to me by Jean-Michel,” said Gun. “It was precious to me and still is. It was remarkable.”

Take a look through the gallery above for some highlights from the life and work of Jean_michel Basquiat.

A Gift from Basquiat is currently on display in a digital exhibition at JGC Fine Art