'American Masters: Basquiat - Rage to Riches'
(DVD / PG / (2017) 2018 / PBS)
Overview: Jean-Michel Basquiat was a rock star of the early 80s art scene: he lived fast, died young and created thousands of drawings and paintings.
It took less than a decade to go from anonymous graffiti writer to an epoch-defining art star. He has emerged as one of the most important artists of his generation and now exhibits in museums all over the world.
DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent.
Basquiat first achieved fame as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s where the hip hop, punk, and street art cultures had coalesced.
By the 1980s, he was exhibiting his neo-expressionist paintings in galleries and museums internationally. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.
Basquiat's art focused on "suggestive dichotomies", such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience.
He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.
Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a "springboard to deeper truths about the individual", as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism, while his poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.
Sadly, he died of a heroin overdose at his art studio at the age of 27.
On May 18, 2017, at a Sotheby's auction, a 1982 painting by Basquiat depicting a skull ("Untitled") set a new record high for any American artist at auction, selling for $110.5 million.
In truth, his dense, bebop-influenced neoexpressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions.
'Basquiat: Rage to Riches' is a definitive documentary about this most influential of American artists of the 20th century.
The documentary is conventional, a no-frills mix of archive footage & contemporary interviews, but this works well as it leaves the focus on well-selected interviews and Basquiat's artwork; which the filmmaker apparently had free rein to use and did so liberally.
His so-called "weak life link" was his time spent living on the streets as a teenager. It's said he was living on the streets (or with girlfriends, to be more precise) because he was a broke kid determined to live in New York.
But the record was also set straight about his background: he wasn't a genius who magically spawned from uneducated poverty. His family was well-off, he was exposed to art, music and intellectual thinking at an early age.
That said, yes, he lived fast, died young and created thousands of drawings and paintings in between. And as this year marks the 30th anniversary of Basquiat's untimely death, PBS have created this wondrous documentary of one of the most impressive, outside-the-box artists that ever lived. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.