Velvet Ropes and Envious Onlookers
It was early January 1979 when I first met Jean-Michel Basquiat. I arrived at the Mudd Club, 77 White Street, in what was then industrial Chinatown, now known as Tribecca. The club was quite unique at the time. One would approach this immense loft building, where you would see people hanging around outside. An androgynous doorman named Joey Arias was clapping and rubbing his hands to keep them warm. Arias was a member of the trendy drag shows in the early 80s. If you looked artsy and entertaining enough, you went in free.
Onlookers would continuously marvel at the hipsters passing through the velvet ropes right before their eyes, whisked inside at Ariass discretion. As one who was waved right in, I walked past the bar onto the dance floor. I surveyed the entertainment situation before heading upstairs, where there was another, more selective, velvet rope. This particular night, I stood at the back of the dance floor, by the stage, where a thin black man whom I had never seen before was dancing next to me. He was wearing a hand-painted t-shirt. As I watched him dance and socialize, I noticed a steady stream of club goers who talked to him as they drifted by.
It was during this time that Jean-Michel worked for designer Patricia Field, owner of a trendy punk rock clothing store at Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue. He was hired by Field to custom paint her new line of clothing, and he sometimes wore them himself, as in this photograph.