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Friday, January 6, 2017

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2016. $23.49 ages 6 and up

"Samoo moves from street corners to art gallery walls with powerful color composition and line, collaging and painting on anything he can find. His art is still not neat or clean and definitely not inside the lines, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL. With his MAGICAL charm, Jean-Michel draws a crowd, but when it's time to work ... "

His life was far too short, only living 28 years. In that time, Jean-Michel Basquiat had a lasting effect on the art world. In this beautifully narrated and exquisitely designed biography, Javaka Steptoe pays tribute to another young artist whose work was influenced by many things and continues to influence those who have followed him.

Jean-Michel's mother provided an introduction to the beauty of the art world through museum visits. She also gave him a copy of Gray's Anatomy. His father's love of jazz and Jean-Michel's own love of poetry added to the mix that led him to make his mark. He always knew that he wanted to pursue art. Through hard work and an ever-evolving style he did shine, although too much of his young life was steeped in tragedy: his mother's mental illness, a  debilitating car accident, his tough teen years, and the move from Brooklyn to New York at 17. Working as a street artist, he named himself Samoo. His wondrous walls of poetry and art caught the eye of many - artists, those who loved art, and passersby drawn to his brilliant work.

Mr. Steptoe describes his own art for the book that honors the artist whose story he is telling:

"Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, I used bits of New York City to create the artwork for this book. I painted on richly textured pieces of found wood harvested from Brooklyn Museum exhibit materials, the Dumpsters of Brooklyn brownstones, and the streets of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side."

Basquiat's influence is evident on every page of this rich and 'radiant' illustrated biography. Everything that happened in the artist's life influenced his growth until he won global success. His highly prized works can now be found in galleries and personal collections throughout the world. Only in arresting back matter, which includes additional facts about the artist, a section about motifs and symbolism in Basquiat's work and an author's note, do we learn about his addiction to drugs and his untimely death.

It is an exemplary introduction to a very special young artist. I am happy to know his story.

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