It has also taken me twenty years to key into Basquiat. Up until now, I just haven’t been able to take him in for all the hype and myth around his person. The documentary Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is my first step towards the subject.
Despite the annoyingly fast editing, the doc paints a truly affecting portrait. What hit me hard was the core contradiction he embodied. On one hand, he was so tremendously independent in his approach to painting. On the other, he had a palpably gaping need for recognition and respect.
In one interview, Julian Schnabel says of the artist:
[…] he didn’t want to get his feelings hurt. And if he just could have had a little more support in a deep sense so that he didn’t feel so damn lonely, and didn’t feel so taken advantage of, and so damn confused… he just didn’t have to the tools to navigate the sea of shit.
How can someone be both so terribly fragile psychologically and so artistically unequivocal and brazen at the same time?
It got me thinking (again) about what gets an artist to make something and also to make it in the art world. Basquiat got into the latter through fun, through partying, and clearly through the penetrating sweetness of his good looks. And it worked, but it also killed him. He got to artmaking through his kind of stimulation: in his studio, the music and TV was always on, and visitors came and went. What came out as a result is the mystery of art, and I don’t want to try to figure that out.