INSPIRATION: Jean-Michel Basquiat & The Radiant Child

“Every line means something.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat

A couple of weeks ago I had the extreme pleasure of watching Tamra Davis‘ documentary, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child and a few days later, out of curiosity, Julian Schnabel‘s feature film, Basquiat. I had heard of the films before but somehow, because I didn’t know much about Basquiat, I wasn’t compelled to seek out the films right away. I found the doc randomly on television while channel-surfing and I am ever so thankful for that. Watched it thrice. Thank you PVR!


Jean-Michel Basquiat photographed by Andy Warhol

Who was Jean-Michel Basquiat?

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. His career spanned just one short decade, yet he is considered one of the best-known artists of his generation and one of only a small number of Hispanic-African-American artists to achieve international recognition. Graduating from subway walls to canvas and from the streets of New York to the galleries of SoHo, the artist and his work remain a mystery to those who seek explanation.

Jean-Michel hit the streets of New York at a young age where art became an outlet. Also known by the tag “SAMO,” Jean-Michel’s unique brand of graffiti was found throughout Manhattan as early as 1976. “His work from the first consisted of conceptual, enigmatic combinations of words and symbols, executed with the curt simplicity of a late Roman inscription”, according to Henry Geldzahler, longtime curator of twentieth-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jean-Michel was 18 when he approached Geldzahler and Andy Warhol in a SoHo restaurant. He sold Andy a postcard for one dollar but was dismissed by Geldzahler as “too young.” Less than three years later (1981) he was invited by artist and filmmaker, Diego Cortez, to participate in the P.S. 1 show, (Institute for Art and Urban Resources), alongside more than twenty artists including Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kenny Sharf and Andy Warhol.

In early 1982 Jean-Michel took the art world by storm with his one-man show at Annina Nosei’s gallery. This momentum propelled him to the forefront of the Neo-Expressionist movement which was characterized by intense subjectivity of feeling and aggressively raw handling of materials. Jean-Michel, accustomed to pushing the envelope in all aspects of his life, had something special to offer the neo-expressionist admirer: “I cross out words so you will see them more – the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.”

By the age of 24 Jean-Michel would be a veteran of one-man shows under the guidance of such notable art dealers as Nosei, Larry Gagosian, Mary Boone and Bruno Bischofberger. Bischofberger introduced Jean-Michel’s art overseas as well as orchestrated the joint collaboration of Warhol and Basquiat in 1985 which involved some 60 works.

In the end Jean-Michel preferred drugs and women over the cultivated art world and was unable to balance fame and fortune with his personal demons. He passed away on August 12th 1988, at the age of 27, the result of a drug overdose.

Source: Lucid Cafe & Wikipedia


“Untitled (Skull),” 1984


The Radiant Child

The film itself is ground-breaking due to one of the only interviews with the artist that had remained unseen for 20 years. This is an in-depth interview of an artist in his prime about to go through a dark period in the remaining 2 years of his life.

Julian Schnabel’s ‘Basquiat’ (1996)

The Value of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Artwork and Influence

The best assessment of the inherent value of his art that I could find.


Have you seen the film The Radiant Child or Julian Schnabel’s film, Basquiat? Do you feel The Radiant Child was snubbed for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary? Are you a fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work or do you think it’s child’s play?

Rose Lagace | @artdepartmental

Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

  1. I have never been able to find any real artistic value in Basquiat’s work. I wouldn’t call it child’s play unless you mean some sort of folly or trick played on the industry. Keith Haring? Same thing. I don’t get it.

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