Friday, August 26, 2011


Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child - Movie Review – 2010
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wonder Child and Art Star
By Jennifer Merin, Guide

Filmmaker Tamra Davis was a friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat's and interviewed him on video shortly before his death in 1988. Only now, in 2010, has she returned to the footage to use it as a base for her moving and intimate profile of her former friend. Davis also uses archival footage of Basquiat -- painting on the streets of New York, where he first gained notoriety as a graffiti artist using the tag SAMO, and creating canvasses in his studio, mingling with rich clients at his gallery showings and becoming a famous player in New York's downtown art scene.

The Basquiat Story

Davis' documentary shows that young Basquiat, who began his career as a street graffiti artist using the tag SAMO and quickly took the downtown gallery world by storm, always had his eye on fame. And, when he got it, it went to his head.

Basquiat ran away from his family home in Brooklyn when he was just a teenager. He lived on the streets of the Lower East Side for several years, but his talent, personal charm and sense of style quickly garnered him celebrity status. He was recognized by art dealers and collectors, and his large canvasses began selling for huge sums. He became an instant art star.

Basquiat became a regular on New York's downtown art scene, frequenting VIP rooms at exclusive clubs, befriending Andy Warhol and hanging out with The Factory clan. He wore expensive Armani suits while painting, and sported dreadlocks as though they were his crown. And he, like many of his cohorts, rode the roller coaster of drug addiction, which ultimately claimed his life when he was just 27 years old.

Basquiat is a mesmerizing character with a fascinating story. He was portrayed by actor Jeffrey Wright in the 1996 narrative feature Basquiat, which was directed by Julian Schnabel, who was a friend of Jean-Michel's and is one of the artists who's interviewed in Davis' documentary. Schnabel's biopic is an excellent film, but seeing the actual footage of Basquiat is extraordinarily moving. Davis' has done a wonderful job of sharing her feelings about her friend and giving us insights into his life, ethos and aesthetic.

Youthful Talent, Artistry and Celebrity

Davis' presentation of the Basquiat story also leads to thoughtful contemplation of how talented young artists are effected by celebrity. Basquiat painted fast -- he created more than 1000 paintings during his brief career -- and lived with abandon. His death was a painful loss to the art world. Basquiat reminds us of the many extraordinarily talented and spirited young artists whose lives have been turned upside down by the spoils and stresses of fame. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is a documentary that gives us a lot to think about.

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