This Black History Month, I wanted to take the time to celebrate the legendary, in his own words, Jean-Michael Basquiat. August 12th will mark the 30th anniversary of his untimely death. All February long Cavalier House Books will be featuring books on Basquiat in remembrance of his work and role in the critical and commercial rise of black American artists. For me, Basquiat is where many white Americans began to appreciate black expression without trying to exploit it. Elvis stole from Chuck Berry but no one's stolen from Basquiat, maybe no one can. Basquiat has a childlike innocence to his work, something not easy to produce with sincerity. I celebrate Basquiat for giving the world a little more light but not shying away from what makes it nasty. His inspiration was simple, "The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn't see many paintings with black people in them."
Basquiat by Leonhard Emmerling
Taschen's Basic Art series presents a short but dense artist biography, detailed chronological list of works, and close to 100 reproductions and details in each title. If you're looking for an affordable and authoritative introduction to Basquiat's work, look no further. Taschen's reproductions, as usual, are simmering with color (something you'll really appreciate when looking at a Basquiat) and are printed on thick cardstock.
Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou with paintings by Jean-Michael Basquiat
First published in 1993 and reissued last month for its 25th anniversary, Life Doesn't Frighten Me is a poem of courage for children accompanied by the juvenile grace of Basquiat's paintings. One can almost see the scenes play out in a child's head while reading, with lines about loud dogs sitting underneath bright orange people and popping red trees.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michael Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
Steptoe was awarded the prestigious Caldecott medal in 2017 for her children's biography of Basquiat. Radiant Child is full of gorgeous original illustrations by Steptoe that were heavily inspired by the work of Basquiat. The story he tells of Basquiat is no slouch either, being full of hope, determination, and love.
An icon of 1980s New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) first made his name under the graffiti tag "SAMO," before establishing his studio practice and catapulting to fast fame at the age of 20. Although his career lasted barely a decade, he remains a cult figure of artistic social commentary, and a trailblazer in the mediation of graffiti and gallery art.
Winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award