At the end of 1979, Basquiat moves into an apartment on 527 East Twelfth Street with his girlfriend Alexis Adler, a biology student. It is small and noisy, the metro line rattles right past the building. Basquiat drags furniture, old TVs, clothing and other scraps that he finds six stairs up. An elevator is absent. He processes them into sculptures and collages, paints them with paint that he receives from friends. If nothing can be painted, he continues on the oven, the bathroom door, the bedroom wall, even the floor in the hallway.
Basquiat is a hyperactive sponge. He studies Picasso’s reproductions but also cartoons and Adler’s chemistry books. He plays the clarinet and designs costumes. The art that it yields has not yet solidified in a specific form. He makes many performances that are photographed by Adler. He is sitting on his own with an American football helmet in front of an open fridge with a TV that shows images of former President Eisenhower: a spell of the Cold War that in those days threatens to derail in a Third World War. The small apartment in the East Village is a safe hiding place, a meeting place for kindred spirits and a pressure cooker for Basquiat’s talent. Here he writes for the first time on a door “famous negro athletes”, a phrase that runs through his later work as a common thread. But he also paints the three-pointed crown, the heart from which a cross grows, and the simplified car between brackets, which grow into iconic symbols in Basquiat’s imagery.