The Radiant Child:
| Documentary Film!
“The whole time I made the film I really wanted to make sure that if I saw Jean-Michel again that he would be happy with the film.”
– Tamra Davis
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, directed by one of the artist’s close friends, Tamra Davis. The film features never-before seen footage of the prolific yet troubled artist, just a couple of years before his untimely passing in 1988. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child in its entirety was released on February 21st, 2010.
That was until last night, when the site hosted a screening of Tamra Davis’s documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child at MoMA. Britt and I were lucky enough to attend, as were a gaggle of massive names, including Annie Leibovitz, Chris Rock, Julian Schnabel, Lily Donaldson, Alicia Keys, Clive Davis and too many others to keep track.
Sure, the guest list was impressive, but the film even more so. We were blown away. Davis, a good friend of Basquiat’s, had filmed him over an extended period in the mid-’80s. Until recently, she kept her footage a secret. Encouraged by art dealer-turned MOCA-director Jeffrey Deitch, Davis made the film with the help of the artist’s loved ones and colleagues. The result is a mix of old footage and new interviews, peppered with music Basquiat listened to while working.
But as wrapped up as we were in the film–and the fact that we were sitting directly behind Chris Rock–we couldn’t help but ponder what Nowness has up its sleeve next.
LVMH has hired a CEO to run the company, which means it’s taking it seriously as a business. If it continues to create quality content (under the quiet direction of Jefferson Hack) and produce once-in-a-lifetime events, monetization could be a part of Nowness’ future.
In his short career, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a phenomenon. He became notorious for his graffiti art under the moniker SAMO in the late 1970s on the Lower East Side scene, sold his first painting to Deborah Harry for $200, and became best friends with Andy Warhol. Appreciated by both the art cognoscenti and the public, Basquiat was launched into international stardom. However, soon his cult status began to override the art that had made him famous in the first place.
Now director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend in a definitive documentary, titled “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child”, the film was a labor of love for Director Tamra Davis, (who met the artist in 1983) and with the screenwriter Becky Johnston (who interviewed him on camera in 1988 two years before his death at age 27, from a heroin overdose).
Thus far, two notable films have been made to document Basquiat’s life. Basquiat himself played a character role in “Downtown ‘81,” and Julian Schnabel’s “Basquiat,” with Jeffrey Wright in the title role, both these films however were partly fiction, and it became clear to Davis that there was little of the actual Basquiat on film.
Tamra Davis’ 88 minute documentary delves into Basquiat as an iconoclast. His dense, bebop-influenced neo-expressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions. Much can be gleaned from insider interviews and archival footage, but it is Basquiat’s own words and work that powerfully convey the mystique and allure of both the artist and the man.
Scheduled for it’s World Premier at the Sundance Film Festival starting January 21st, 2010.
Visit at Sundance Film Festival’s’ official website here for more information on screening times. Or take a look at T Magazine’s report here on the film’s preview screening which took place earlier in December in Miami.
Video below shows a 1986 interview with Basquiat featuring Andy Warhol (From the final episode of State of the Art, a series of documentaries about the visual arts in the 1980s.)
“He was one of the people I was truly envious of...
but he was too fragile for this world.”
* Photograph courtesy of © Michael Halsband /
Jean Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. The son of a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat’s interest in art began in his childhood. His mother encouraged this interest by frequently taking him to the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From this exposure, Basquiat grew to admire Cy Twombly, Franz Kline and Jean Dubuffet, while also developing an interest in cartoon and comic book drawings.
In high school, Basquiat met Al Diaz and together they began painting grafitti on the D train and IND line around lower Manhattan, which they signed with name SAMO (Same Old Shit.) Various sayings posted around the city included “SAMO as an end to mindwash religion, nowhere politics, and bogus philosophy,” and “SAMO saves idiots.” This created much popularity and talk, and generated interest in Basquiat’s work. In response, Basquiat began selling hand painted postcards and T-shirts.
"Basquiat" Boom in Style Collection Fashionlistic'SAMO'
* Photograph courtesy of © Michael Halsband /
René Ricard, who loved Basquiat’s colorful style and deeply textured work, published the first article on Basquiat in Artforum (1981), entitled “The Radiant Child.” This was complemented by Basquiat’s first public exhibition in a show sponsored by COLAB (Collaborative Projects Incorporated) that same year. Two years later, he was included in the 1983 Whitney Biennal Exhibition, and by the time he was 24 he had enjoyed 23 solo shows at galleries including the Larry Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles and the Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Basquiat’s fame was cemented in February 1985, when he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, as a subject of Cathleen McGuigan’s article entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist."
Preferring to be considered a fine artist rather than graffiti artist, Basquiat surrounded himself with other contemporary artists, such as Francesco Clemente, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. Despite his large success and popularity, Basquiat possessed a serious drug addiction. He died from a heroin overdose in 1988.
“Jean-Michel was a hero of mine when I was younger. His work made me want to be a painter. Tamra Davis filmed Basquiat throughout the 80's and interviewed him in 1986, at the height of his career, just two years before his death. The footage remained unseen for decades. Twenty years later, this is her film.”