Jean-Michel Basquait: The Radiant Child (Documentary)

This is a documentary film made in 2010 featuring an interview and lots of archival footage of Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as interviews with many people around his life including past girlfriends, musicians, gallery owners and his art dealer. It was great to actually hear his voice and the way he talked about his work, he was very soft-spoken and thoughtful sounding, his voice reminded me of Jimi Hendrix in the way he would talk fast and shyly, throwing in lot’s of “you know man”‘s etc.

It was a good chronological account of his life told  by him and the people close to him. I took notes throughout the film:



Some bits that stuck out to me were:

  • that on the night of his first real solo exhibition at the Annina Noisei gallery, he sold out of all his paintings making $200,000 in one night
  • when people ask him how does he paint he thinks it’s “like asking Miles Davis, what does your horn sound like?”
  • an early memory that inspired him in art was seeing the Guernica by Picasso as a child
  • he was also inspired by William Burrough’s and his cut-up method, and the poetry paintings of John Giorno:
  • He was influenced by Be-Bop, a type of jazz made popular by people like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis
  • He had his first major press in the New York Times:
  • In 1983 the average price of a Basquiat went from $5,000 to $30,000
  • On the crossed out words in his paintings: “I cross out words so you will see them more, the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them”
  • When he began using heroin his friends said he was well aware of the problems with the drug, and also he was very conscious of the romantic idea of “the artist’s life being too intense to last long”, and the deaths of artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock, and also Jimi Hendrix
  • The collaborative exhibition with him and Andy Warhol was panned by critics who said that Andy was past it and taking advantage of Basquait’s talent, due to this they fell out and Andy Warhol died shortly after, from a complication during surgery
  • Basquiat became depressed after Andy’s death, especially because he felt they ended on bad terms, he became increasingly isolated and upped his drug use
  • On his drug use: “They tell me the drugs are killing me, then they tell me my art’s dead.”
  • In 1988 he had his first solo exhibition in 2 years, and he was in a bad frame of mind, scared about what the critics would say and upset about his bad relationship with his father (who hated his drug use)
  • During his last days he began to go back to see old friends, including the guy he used to do SAMO with and gave him a painting that said “from SAMO to SAMO” on it
  • He died from a heroin overdose not long after