The Radiant Child: Jean-Michel Basquiat

(Untitled(Head), Jean-Michel Basquiat)

Last week I was out with a friend who mentioned she recently watched a documentary about the artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

I’m sure my face didn’t light up.

Admittedly, I never really got into his work.  I viewed Jean-Michel as some sort of icon one would mention as a ‘favorite’ because it made them sound cerebral.  Expecting their love of Nietzsche, soy lattes, foreign films, and listening to Billie Holiday on old 45s to come tumbling out of their mouthes next.

She too wasn’t the biggest fan of his work, but acquired a new found appreciation for the artist and the art he created after watching The Radiant Child.

Such an amazing story.


The way the film was shot, the footage and interviews the director had access to, and even just learning about New York in the 70’s and 80’s was extremely engaging.  I realized I knew nothing about Jean-Michel’s life as the film carries you through his days as a graffiti artist on the streets, his alarmingly quick rise to fame, and eventual downfall.  During his celebrity, Jean-Michel partied in SoHo, hid stacks of money all over his apartment(he didn’t have a bank account), became bosom buddies with his idol, Andy Warhol and had his work exhibited in galleries all over the world.  Fame, and its associated pressures/paranoias/psychoses eventually caught up with him and he died of a drug overdose at the age of 27.

“Since I was seventeen I thought I might be a star. I’d think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix… I had a romantic feeling about how these people became famous.”

(Brown Spots (Portrait of Andy Warhol as a Banana))

The Radiant Child shows the evolution and eventual decomposition of a human being. Jean-Michel went from being a dewy eyed street rat who became king of his domain, to a numb icon who was a shell of his former self.

“I wanted to be a star, not a gallery mascot.”


While learning about Jean-Michel as an individual, you gain additional insight into the life of the artist by watching his career play out through the pieces of art he created. Understanding more about the reasons behind his oftentimes sparse and child-like sketches and his struggle to be recognized as an artist, not a black artist.

(Bird on Money)

Every line meant something.


Learn more about the film here.

Watch the film here.

Learn more about the artist here.

View his art here.

“I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.”

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