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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316213882.
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RedReviewStarGr 1–5—A visually stunning picture book biography about modern art phenomenon Jean-Michel Basquiat. Coretta Scott King Award—winner Steptoe's vivid text and bold artwork reflect the Haitian Puerto Rican artist's collage-style paintings that rocketed him to fame in the 1980s. Back matter and an introduction to symbolism in Basquiat's work help readers appreciate the layers of Black identity and Yoruba influences at play in Steptoe's illustrations.
Picture books about artists are tricky. Should the illustrator mimic the subject's style, or instead attempt to capture his or her essence? Steptoe does a little of both in this introduction to Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most visionary-and misunderstood-artists of his generation. Born in 1960 and raised in a loving, trilingual home in Brooklyn, Basquiat was encouraged by his parents (of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent) to follow his talent from an early age. The art world first took note of Basquiat's graffiti art in the late 1970s. Later, his mixed-media paintings on unusual surfaces (such as windows and refrigerators) earned him a large following and several art shows, but during his short life he was often discouraged by racism, particularly when people labeled his style "primitive." Steptoe focuses on the artist's childhood, including a long recuperation after a car accident, and his mother's mental illness and its influence on his art. Because Steptoe's own style, with its vivid palette and use of found objects, is similar to Basquiat's, he provides a close impression of the painter's work, including many of the artist's motifs. While Steptoe's compositions are more representational than Basquiat's and easier to "read," they radiate a similar sense of energy and immediacy. For many personal reasons described in his heartfelt author's note, Javaka Steptoe is the perfect person to create this book: a tour de force that will introduce an important artist to a new generation. Appended notes provide more information about Basquiat's life and art; there is also a brief bibliography. lolly robinson
The art world first took note of Jean-Michel Basquiat's graffiti in the late 1970s. He earned a large following and several art shows but was often discouraged by racism. Steptoe's style, similar to Basquiat's with its vivid palette and use of found objects, provides a close impression of the painter's work. Appended notes provide additional information about Basquiat's life and art. Bib.

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