Archive for January 3rd, 2017


by Sam Juliano

Javaka Steptoe’s biographical picture book about the life of the seminal Greenwich Village artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has gone the extra mile.  Maybe the extra two miles.  Make that three.  A book that features replications of his work in the hands of an artist like Steptoe could well yield electrifying results but this son of another groundbreaking legend wanted to to convey the feeling, the textures, the materials and the environment that surrounded this unique American artist from his initially sheltered upbringing to his Bohemian lifestyle that began near the end of the baby boomer era.  Perhaps the most important lessons to be gained from this astounding work are voiced by Steptoe himself in an afterward.  The author-illustrator speaks about this story of parental influence, unlikely success and tragedy as a vassal for healing, and a coming to terms with internal problems like mental illness that have maligned family members in the artistic community and the world at large.  Though every turn of this forty page book  yields yet another magnificent tapestry Steptoe nonetheless tells his readers that “Basquiat’s artwork is more than just bright colors or interesting composition or text.”  Steptoe equates artistic expression as a voice for which an artist can address complex social issues and politics that remain topical today.  Yet, like Abraham Lincoln who famously said “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here” Steptoe’s interpretative art in Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat will ultimately make it a transcendent work.   Steptoe’s artistic decision in approaching Basquiat’s work was daringly audacious, adapting himself to the icon’s style but steadfastly avoiding pictorial facsimiles.  As a result he paints a more complex and intricate portrait of the boy’s coming of age by examining the images, thoughts, tenacity, squalor, energy, clutter, healing, heartbreak, solitude, social immersion, street life, all negotiated in the fast lane by someone who created as much in his short life as the poet John Keats did in his own brief sojourn. (more…)

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