Al Diaz began writing his BOMB 1 graffiti in 1971 and when Jean-Michel Basquait moved to Diaz’s high school, the middle class kid from Brooklyn looked up to and befriended the older graffiti writer who lived in the East Village projects. Basquait and Diaz came up with a quasi religious concept they called SAMO, short for ‘same old shit’, which commented on the state of the world around them.
Original photo of Jean Michel Basquait on the way to a Halloween Party in Brooklyn in 1978
The first appearance of SAMO was in the school paper but it soon evolved into esoteric statements which appeared all over NYC. So unusual was this legible and intellectually provocative graffiti that the Village Voice sought out Diaz and Basquiat and published a story on them which propelled the teens into art world fame.
"Jean was always driven to be famous. Not a famous artist, just famous" even at school according to Diaz and following the success of SAMO, Basquait used his creative genius, broad smile and charisma to become exactly that. On the way, he abandoned his old friends and even declared SAMO dead. Within 10 years, at only 27, Jean Michel Basquait died at 57 Great Jones Street, which he rented off owner Andy Warhol.
Diaz too struggled against the power of hard drugs but was lucky enough to escape their grasp and again began writing SAMO on subways, walls and pretty much anywhere.
Diaz may have started as a graffiti writer but he really is more of a street poet. For the last few years, he has rearranged the paper subway service changes and warning signs in New York's subway to create what he calls the "Wet Paint" series of art.
Adrian Wilson, a fellow street artist met Diaz at ArtBasel Miami and presented him with a piece of art which stated "Art History Forgot Me", vowing that he would help him come out of Basquait's long shadow.
Wilson and Diaz collaborated on several street art pieces
but it was their idea to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Basquiat on 12th August 2018 which led to the gallery.
While prepping the gates, Wilson noticed there was an empty old butcher's shop and contacted the restaurant Bohemian who had signed a lease on the space. After bringing in Lazy Susan Gallery owner Brian Shevlin as a consultant and a month's negotiations, Bohemian donated the space free to showcase that SAMO and Diaz were alive and creative.
In just 6 days, Diaz, Shevlin and Wilson created what they called the Same Old Gallery but it was far from any sterile art space.
They even added art to a former drain.
Diaz invited his graffiti writer friends to tag the back room
and Wilson added a giant visitors book so anyone could say that they created some art in the same place where Basquiat did.
The gallery is filled with Diaz's provocative art.
and of course a giant SAMO
Visitors to the Same Old Gallery have included Basquait's ex-girlfriend, Warhol's film maker, Pupils from Basquiat and Diaz's high school and NY Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, who reviewed it as "A whole other idea of what something should look like."
For sure this really isn't a Same Old Gallery. It is more like a community art space where Diaz or Wilson are often there to retell stories and show anyone around with a very personal tour.
"The fact that Andy Warhol owned this place from 1970 and Basquait lived here until 1988, yet it was never a gallery is unbelievable when you imagine who came into this space over the years" says Wilson. On October 20th, the gallery will close and the space will revert back to a store and then be converted into a restaurant. "Call it a pop up if you want but I see this gallery as a creative blip which people can enjoy for the briefest moment in time" says Wilson, who coincidentally shares the same initials with Warhol and has created a space for the living half of SAMO. The gallery directly came from the Basquiat tribute they created out of love and respect, and both Diaz and Wilson feel that it all came together thanks to his guidance. When Wilson asked Basquiat's ex girlfriend, Suzanne Mallouk, on her first visit back to the space where they lived together what she thought Jean would think of the gallery and his old friend Al's work, she replied "I think he would be very proud of what you have done here".
Same Old Gallery
57 Great Jones Street