Today in history, December 22, 1960, Jean-Michel Basquiat was born at Brooklyn Hospital, New York City, to Gerard Basquiat (his father, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti) and Matilde Andradas (his mother, born in Brooklyn of Puerto Rican parents).
The young Basquiat would have been just 53 years old today, were he still alive. He died of a heroin overdose at his art studio in New York City on August 12, 1988, at 27 years old.
In New York City of the 1970s, he covered the city streets with his graffiti tag ‘SAMO.’
In 1981 he put paint on canvas for the first time.
And by 1983 he had become an artist with “rock star status,” achieving critical and commercial success, though constantly confronted by racism from his peers.
In 1985, he and Andy Warhol became close friends and painting collaborators, but they parted ways, and Warhol died suddenly in 1987.
Basquiat’s heroin addiction worsened, and he died of an overdose in 1988.
At the height of his very short, blistering career, he was 25 years old, and today his canvases sell for millions of dollars.
Basquiat’s life unfolds on screen in 2 films of note: most recently, director Tamra Davis’ 2009 documentary, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, which, in short, follows a rare interview that Davis shot with Basquiat 20+ years ago, chronicling the meteoric rise and fall of the young artist.
Davis’ film intimately details the life of the young charismatic Basquiat, an artist of enormous talent whose fortunes mirrored the roller-coaster quality of the downtown art scene he seemed to embody.
The film features interviews with Julian Schnabel, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Fab 5 Freddy, Jeffrey Deitch, Glenn O’Brien, Michael Holman, Diego Cortez, Annina Nosei, Kenny Scharf, among many others.
If you haven’t seen it, or you’d like to watch it again, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is currently streaming on Hulu, for free. I’ve embedded it below.
Prior to Davis’ documentary was Jeffrey Wright’s gutsy turn as Basquiat, in a scripted feature film titled Basquiat, directed by Julian Schnabel, the notoriously prickly artist, with a cast that also included Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, and David Bowie.
Wright said that he had to take up painting and shed 30 pounds to play Basquiat in the film.
The film went on to gross just over $3 million in theaters and received generally favorable reviews.
And by the way, it’s also streaming on Netflix currently, so a double-dose of Basquiat on screen, to celebrate his life – one fictionalized, the other non-fiction.
Watch Radiant Child below; and then head over to Netflix for Jeffrey Wright’s Basquiat.