Monday, January 3, 2011

Netflix Movie Monday

In case you missed it, here is an explanation of what NMM is, and why I started it.  And now, on to this week's installment!

Jean-Michael Basquiat:  Radiant Child

I absolutely love the way this documentary begins:

This is a song for the genius child.
Sing it softly, for the song is wild.
Sing it softly as ever you can -
Lest the song get out of hand.
Nobody loves a genius child.
Can you love an eagle,
Tame or wild?
Can you love an eagle,
Wild or tame?
Can you love a monster
Of frightening name?
Nobody loves a genius child.
Kill him - and let his soul run wild.
~Langston Hughes

It was this preface that kept me watching after the first 15 minutes gave me doubts and almost had me clicking the 'back' button on my browser.  The movie was shaping up to be an over-indulgent, snobbish look at the life of 1980's artist Jean-Michael Basquiat.  I love art, and grew up with a fair knowledge of the major painters throughout history, but I know next to nothing about the turns that more recent art has taken.  Apparently, Jean-Michael was supposed to be THE most influential artist of our generation.  After being introduced to some of his paintings, I wasn't so sure:

Call me uncultured, but it looked like something my 4th graders could produce. 

But, fortunately, I kept watching (with the Hughes quote in mind).  Amazingly, the more I saw of Basquiat's art, the more I liked it. It's like listening to an orchestral piece that seems simple enough, but after hearing it time and again, you begin to pick out all the intricate, subtle undertones. 

The film did an excellent job of telling Jean-Michael's story, while simultaneously showcasing his artwork.  Interestingly, the artist started out doing graffiti, but not just any graffiti, mind you.  He would spray paint cryptic sayings and lines from poems on the sides of buildings.  He later used his art to celebrate black culture.  Here is a work from his line of 'king' paintings, where he honored black talent.  Can you guess who this is?

Another thing I find interesting about Basquiat, is that he was equally influenced by street culture, and by classical artists.  These seem to be two completely opposite aesthitics to me, but he incorporated them together beautifully:

Recognize Van Gogh's self portrait?

The reason why I decided to review this movie is that it grabbed me and refused to let go.  Even now, almost a week later, I cannot get Basquiat's gripping images out of my mind.  This documentary is a must see for any art enthusiast. 

And now, off to find some Basquiat prints for my walls ...

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