A vibrant children’s book detailing the early life of the revolutionary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has just won a coveted award at the American Library Association’s 2017 youth media awards.

Source: Amazon
Source: Amazon

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe, introduces the childhood of the late Brooklyn born neo-expressionist artist with the use of vivid texts and images that echo Basquiat’s powerful style. It was awarded the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which is typically given to the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Basquiat’s innovative style, characterized by the typical rough, violent, and vivid nature of neo-expressionism, has challenged and puzzled critics and his wider public alike all through his career. Born in 1960, Basquiat began his career as part of the graffiti duo ‘SAMO’ who became a notorious contributor to the street art movement in Manhattan during the 70s, with their epigrams (below). Going into the 80s, Basquiat branched out into the popular neo-expressionist paintings that soon featured in galleries and museums worldwide.

Source: Flavorwire
Source: Flavorwire

As the son of a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat was famed for using his paintings to convey illusive social commentaries on such topics as power structures, class, and racial prejudices. The layering of words, images, and structures in his works provide layers of depth and meaning that many are still trying to decipher today. It is the idea that art such as this does not have to be neat or clean in order to be apreciated, which is something that Steptoe is trying to convey in his book. An example of this is the image below- titled ‘Scull’ (1981):

Source: wikiart
Source: Wikiart

As an intriguing read for any children interested in art, or for those willing to learn about the artist, the book is an excellent introduction. However, the restrictions of this young target audience does call for the omission of large parts of Basquiat’s later life biography from the book.

Following the death of his close friend and fellow artist Andy Warhol in 1987, and with the increasing scorn of critics and the art world at large, Basquiat’s battle with heroin addiction soon left him defeated. By August 1988, he was found dead in his art studio as a result of a heroin overdose, aged just 27. He had left behind over 1,000 unseen paintings.

Source: nybooks
Source: NY Books

Due to this tragic end for Basquiat, it is even more important to appreciate the vibrancy and innovation demonstrated in Radiant Child, which has been received by a world that now fully appreciates the artist’s genius. As a result, it is hoped that the 80 year old Caldecott prize will boost the awareness of this brilliant artist, as well as the sales of the book.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is available now.

YouTube Channel: Illuminations Media

 

Featured image via Wikiart

h/t Quartz