Jean-Michel Basquiat, ‘"Radiant Child", Artforum Magazine, Rene Ricard Article’, 1981, VINCE fine arts/ephemera
Jean-Michel Basquiat, ‘"Radiant Child", Artforum Magazine, Rene Ricard Article’, 1981, VINCE fine arts/ephemera

ARTFORUM, “The Radiant Child”, December 1981.
Author-René Ricard’s essay entitled “The Radiant Child.” Not only was it written by someone who knew him, it’s also one of the first in-depth critical responses to his art.
The article first appeared in the December 1981 issue of Artforum. What surprised me most about the essay perhaps is that even though the article is most closely associated with Basquiat’s career, it discusses other artists as well. It’s so associated with Basquiat today, by the way, that a documentary on him produced in 2009 was called The Radiant Child even though that title comes from work made by Basquiat’s contemporary Keith Haring. Basquiat is talked about at length in the article for sure, but other artists are mentioned and discussed in an effort to place graffiti art squarely within art historical practices.

The goal of “The Radiant Child” is not to only bolster Basquiat’s career, but to place him within a history of art making that was evolving outside of the traditional art museum and art education system. Basquiat is held up as an exemplar of that movement, but he is part of a movement that also includes other important artists. Basquiat (as well as Haring and Judy Rifka) are the artists who were transforming graffiti art into in to fine art. In Ricard’s words:

“Artists have a responsibility to their work to raise it above the vernacular. Perhaps it is the critic’s job to sort out from the melee of popular style the individuals who define the style, who perhaps inaugurated it … and to bring them to public attention.”

-René Ricard, “The Radiant Child”, ArtForum International, December 1981

That statement really brings into focus that reasons why Ricard saw Basquiat as so transformative. He came from the realm of street art, but his paintings weren’t just re-creations of his graffiti tags. They referenced graffiti art, but looked like works of art that belonged in an art gallery. Again, Ricard says it best:

“…what the pictures are internally about is what matters. If you’re going to stand up there with the big kids you’ve got to be heavy, got to sit on a wall next to Anselm Kiefer next to Jonathan Borofsky next to Julian Schnabel and these guys are tough they can make you look real sissy. There’s only one place for a mindless cutie and it ain’t the wall, Jack”

Signature: Not signed

Publisher: Artforum Intrnational

Private Collection, NY

About Jean-Michel Basquiat

A poet, musician, and graffiti prodigy in late-1970s New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat had honed his signature painting style of obsessive scribbling, elusive symbols and diagrams, and mask-and-skull imagery by the time he was 20. “I don’t think about art while I work,” he once said. “I think about life.” Basquiat drew his subjects from his own Caribbean heritage—his father was Haitian and his mother of Puerto Rican descent—and a convergence of African-American, African, and Aztec cultural histories with Classical themes and contemporary heroes like athletes and musicians. Often associated with Neo-expressionism, Basquiat received massive acclaim in only a few short years, showing alongside artists like Julian Schnabel, David Salle, and Francesco Clemente. In 1983, he met Andy Warhol, who would come to be a mentor and idol. The two collaborated on a series of paintings before Warhol’s death in 1987, followed by Basquiat’s own untimely passing a year later.

American, 1960-1988, New York, New York, based in New York, New York

About Rene Ricard

American, 1946-2014, Acushnet, Massachusetts, based in New York, New York