There already have been several documentaries about the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat who is considered to be one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, but Sara Driver’s new one just focuses purely on his late teenage years. There is no discussion on his childhood in Brooklyn or how he ended up in SoHo the first place, as her very flattering profile starts out with Basquiat being part of the revolutionary graffiti movement in the 1970’s.
As part of his street art at the time, he wrote weirdly poetic texts he wrote on walls using the “SAMO” tag he adopted. They were like most of his later work provocatively simplistic and childlike at times. Driver includes interviews with Fab Five Freddy who is very knowledgeable about this whole period along with graffiti artist/ muralist Lee Quiñones and Al Diaz, who helped popularize the SAMO tag before Basquiat claimed it as solely his own.
While most graffiti artists were at work in the Bronx, Basquiat who was always convinced he was going to be famous, focused on the walls of SoHo where his art was considered too crude to make it inside the prestigious galleries in the area. When a new arts collective called Colab mounted its own fringe alternative show, Basquiat was intrigued, and in 1980 when they included some of his work, he finally started being noticed by influential gallery directors.
The picture Driver paints of Basquiat the man is of charismatic soul who lived off his wits and the generosity of friends who would let him crash on their apartment floors or in their beds. Several women attest to being deeply in love with him and although Basquiat would make love to them on a regular basis, they all knew that they could never claim to be his girlfriend.
From a series of interviews with people who knew Basquiat well enough to call him a friend like Jim Jarmusch and Kenny Scharf, we learn of Basquiat’s eagerness to immerse himself in every art form he could as long as he could do so in his own extraordinarily unique way.
Driver’s compelling tribute which is a must-see for any fan of Basquiat’s work and that tumultuous period in the art scene in NY, ends just as he is finally ensconced in his own studio near the Brooklyn Bridge and he sells his first ever painting for $500.
Basquiat died just 7 years later ii 1988 at the age of 28.
On May 18, 2017, a Basquiat 1982 painting, set a new record high for any U.S. artist at auction, selling for $110,500,000.