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Stretch Gallery

The Offs First Record (Cover Art), Limited Editions

The Offs First Record (Cover Art), Limited Editions

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Artist: Jean-Michel Basquiat

The Offs First Record (Cover Art), (1984) Album Cover and Vinyl 35th Anniversary (2019). Limited Edition Press of 500 (GREEN)

Artist: Jean-Michel Basquiat

The Offs First Record (Cover Art), (1984) Album Cover and Vinyl 25th Anniversary (2009) Limited Edition. Press of 500 (RED)

When Jean-Michel Basquiat was 19, he moved into a crumbling Manhattan apartment with his then-girlfriend, Alexis Adler. There, she remembers, “music was playing all the time.” Music was a source of creative inspiration for Basquiat, whose work often depicted musical motifs like jazz artists and brass instruments. Before his early death at age 27, the street artist also designed the album covers for two vinyl records. The first design was for Beat Bop, a 1983 rap battle between the graffiti artists-turned-MCs K-Rob and Rammellzee. Basquiat financed and produced the track on his own music label, Tartown Inc. As the legend goes, Basquiat himself charged into the recording booth during the heated session—though his lyrics didn’t make the cut on the final record. Basquiat’s next design, a 1984 cover for the San Francisco punk band, The Offs, depicts a single figure in Basquiat’s traditional cartoonish style and childish script. Though the album didn’t sell well at the time, Basquiat’s iconic cover design has made it one of the most expensive records of all time.

When Andy Warhol called David Ferguson of CD Presents on behalf of the OFFS, the band was finally signed. Part of what intrigued Ferguson was the cover art for the album--a sketch done by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Ferguson chose to reverse the image for release, making it black on white to follow the Punk sensibility. Entwined with many of the same anti-establishment movements, The OFFS and Basquiat’s social commentaries were consistent--a support for class struggle through political art.

In Basquiat’s typical Neo-Expressionist, primitive, instructions-infused style, the artist repeats the band’s name three times in the composition, placing the album’s simple title at the bottom. Using images and symbols found throughout his work during the 1981-1983 period, in The Offs First Record, raw oil stick lines delineating the body extend to form a crown of thorns above the skull. This same imagery is also found in a cycle of totemic figures realized during this early period: perhaps emphasizing the band’s role as hero or martyr caught in the travails of the then shifting cultural landscape, as Basquiat too saw his career experiencing this same shifting landscape.