Updated: Mar 10, 2020
The graffiti movement during the eighties in New York has always been one of my art fascinations. New York as an explosion of public creativity through the colorful murals saturating the subway trains and tagged nicknames paired with street numbers on walls is a captivating story with many unique characters. One of the pivotal artists to emerge from this art movement is Jean-Michel Basquiat. After seeing clips of Basquiat on Glenn O’Brien’s “TV party” and hearing his name mentioned in graffiti documentaries I thought I would watch Tamra Davis’s 2010 documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.
The documentary is composed of interviews of Basquiat’s closest friends, who are all enamored and seduced by his brilliance and humble awkwardness regarding his success. The personal footage and narrative supplied by prominent art figures and friends create an intimate portrait of Basquiat that quickly convinces you of his radiance and immense critical and commercial appeal. Despite his beloved status, it is made clear that a young Basquiat was collapsing under a tremendous amount of pressure to produce.
While watching the documentary I found myself invested in Basquiat enough that the vivid description of his demise by drugs crushed me. The documentary’s inclusivity of his work, friends, critics and personal footage shaped an honest portrait of who he was to everyone. I thought the overarching use of Langston Hughes’s “Genius Child” poem captured his persona, as if it reaffirmed all the qualities in the Basquiat I knew.