by Michi Meko

Remember the first time you saw it.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Cadmium), 1984 at the High Museum of Art, in Atlanta

Coming out of the Matisse exhibition, you turn the corner and it appears. By itself, alone. The pigment is pure as if it was just ripped in its mineral form from the mines of its resting place. It is vibrant. It is vibrating off the wall, pulsating in its natural state. Your breath becomes heavy, your panting is auditory. Your pH balances all change at once. The flush, a hot feeling in the face that eases over the epidermis with a scorching burn in the throat. The initial contact makes your neck and forehead begin to perspire like a boxer’s. The rest of your body follows the throat’s lead and begins to tingle with heat. By this time, your blood pressure and heart rate have increased; your mouth has gone dry while your eyes tear into singular focus. Your body shakes and its tremors are noticeable in your hands. They are sweaty and gummed up with the body’s reaction to its presence. You can feel the entire life force of your body. All energy is forcing the cells into electrical over-shock.  It’s a disbelief of what is in front of you. There is a pause, and that gap is filled with a history. With all of the sweating and panting, your brain is racing through narratives and mythologies.  This breakage is only seconds, but it seems more than a lifetime in a few flashes. Your gaze and emotions, although they are racing, feel like gridlock within the body. You’re wrecked and twisted like The Pop Artist’s silkscreens. Laid out, beyond reviving, there is no help on the way. The scowl on your face is not one of pain but of the brain trying to process the images your eyes are sending. Your limbic system is working overtime. A breath returns life back into your body. You almost cry. Maybe you do.

You take a few slow steps closer. There is a moment of disbelief, but the painting is a fact, a reality that you must confront for the first time. You slowly move forward, stalking, like a Mapogo lion hunting in the Sabi sands of Africa. Your stalking has you in position, and it is within your reach. You see your young hand reach out toward the canvas, and the emotions return with great exuberance. You break all the rules and touch it. Your eyes are focused in a singular gaze, transfixed by the cadmium. It feels like pure tingling energy. Your spirit feels an overwhelming charge as if you just scored all the power packs in a video game. The blue blazers white shirts and gray pants see nothing. You have a giggle to yourself as you ponder the expression of the marks.

The cadmium is heavy, and there is a yellow under-painting that creates a halo around the black male figure. Hieroglyphic–like humans carved from the cadmium reveal the golden yellow beneath. They observe the main figure in the picture plane. The main figure is two fifths of a man, with his head haloed–marked out.  His heart is removed and placed in a flat space. Maybe it’s a trophy. From the marks that cover the figure it could have been ripped out. Maybe it’s something hoped for, a mapped and coded cosmogram. It reveals its secret to only those in-the-know. The face has a hollow gaze like a zombie, half covered in black paint. A hint of burnt cork. I know that there is something heavy before me, but its secrets are forever held with the title (Untitled) Cadmium, 1984.

Author cutline: Michi Meko is an artist based in Atlanta, Georia. His multidisciplinary works challenge physicality and psychology, exploring individual as well as collective perseverance and memory.