For those needing an introduction, Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist who began as an obscure graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s and evolved into an acclaimed painter by the 1980s.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (which you can see in its totality at the bottom of this post), is a documentary by Tamra Davis who was a close friend of the artist. In 1986, Davis sat down with him and filmed an interview, and only two years later, he was dead from a heroin overdose at 27. Over twenty years later, Davis unearthed her footage and turned it into the feature-length Radiant Child.
The title of the film comes from a 1981 Artforum article by poet and critic René Ricard, who helped take Basquiat’s work from the streets to the galleries. By the time Basquiat became a recognized artists he was already “famous for being famous” due to the impact his graffiti work as SAMO had caused in New York city at the time. Both Basquiat and contemporary Keith Haring took graffiti to the level of high art.
Throughout his career Basquiat focused on “suggestive dichotomies,” such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. Basquiat’s art utilized a synergy of appropriation, poetry, drawing and painting, which married text and image, abstraction and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.
He pioneered noise rock with his band Gray, his first public work under his own name, during a time when he was just “surviving.” As he puts it in the film, he was “living place to place… looking for money on the floor of the Mudd club,” planning on “being a bum” for the rest of his life.
Form my impressions of the movie I can say that Basquiat had a charming personality and was a humble individual in search of love and acceptance like many of us simple mortals but he had the guts to go the extra mile, only to find himself empty at the end of the road. Watch the documentary, it is a lot of fun.