Jean Michel Basquiat, born in Brooklyn in 1960, became one of the most successful African American artists of his generation. After leaving home at age 17, Basquiat bummed around Manhattan, writing graffiti as SAMO and sleeping where he could. Tamra Davis was a friend and was able to interview Basquiat before his unexpected death. She has finally turned that footage into an amazing documentary chronicling the intensity and struggle that was so much a part of his short life.
I scrambled up a flight of stairs toward an auditorium at the University of Rochester, expecting to walk in to a room full of people intently watching as Tamra Davis’s new film, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, started to play. As I opened the door, I instead found myself in a room with five other people and a table of assorted bread, meat, chips and a few cans of soda that appeared to have been the leftovers from some other larger gathering. I sat down and the graduate student who organized the screening introduced herself and the film.
From start to finish, I was captivated. The film intimately depicts the life of Jean from when he left home as a teenager, becoming a homeless street artist, to his first gallery show, to his close friendship with Andy Warhol and finally to his tragic death from a heroin overdose in 1988. The film is set to be officially released July 21, 2010.