Basquiat, Perspective, & Inspiration


The night before I headed back West for the holidays I stayed with my friend, James, in Philly. It had been a long trip so we decided to watch a movie, and after nixing many, he pulled out an old favorite of his: Basquiat. Of course I knew of the young artist's work, but I'd never spent much time learning about him. James dubbed the film a mood piece, and I would agree. It provided a strong sense of what it was like in the '80s for artists in Manhattan. Through the film you could feel the pop of energy that emerged during that time and the vibrancy of the art scene that seeped out of the culture. It was humorous, poignant, and exciting, but left me wanting to know Jean-Michel Basquiat (JMB) on a deeper level.

I wanted to understand him.

It's interesting, the conclusions our minds draw. I found my mind immediately painting a picture of what I thought Basquiat was like through watching the film. But, I knew I didn't get a truly accurate representation and sought out more information. The day I arrived in LA I vegged out in bed and watched the documentary: Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child. The film shows footage his friend took of him when he was only 25 years old. When he died two years later she buried the tapes which had gone unseen for over 20 years. Acting is a wonderful art, but there's nothing like being able to see someone's own mannerisms, tone of voice, and overall body language. After only a few moments seeing and hearing JMB my image of him softened. He seemed shy, sweet, and intelligent. The image of a cooky artist with a drug problem morphed into one of an inspired, talented, and intelligent human being.

Through this footage I saw something no actor can completely embody: humanity filtering through our own unique mesh.

Similar to Bob Marley, there's something about Jean-Michel Basquiat and this period that hits me at a soul level. Maybe it's the overwhelming feeling that comes with people creating something for the world, something for more than themselves. There was an impulse in people like Basquiat, Bob Marley, and Andy Warhol that permeated the culture of the time. It could be felt so strongly that people were compelled toward them and whatever it was they were doing. And JMB was a smart dude. He was unassuming. There's something so poignant and familiar about his story:

a black artist in a white art world

a time and place where racism didn't exist to the youth, but was a constant reminder from police and media

the inundation of media

ignorant interviewers

the struggle of fame


young death

"Basquiat lived like a flame. He burned really bright. Then the fire went out. But the embers are still hot."

These were the words of Fred Braithwaite, a friend of JMB, at his memorial. Basquiat's life tragically ended when he was only 27. According to Christie's, he left 917 drawings, 25 sketchbooks, 85 prints, and 171 paintings. I'm 29 now and am in awe of the body of work he produced in his short time here. His story is so inspiring, not because of the tragic ending, but because of what he contributed to the world. There was something he wanted to say, and he said it in a way no one else did. He got people to notice, and he placed his attention on the impulse that was pushing him to speak through his paintings.

Check out the trailer for Radiant Child: