While waiting for my monthly writers’ group to organize at the local, charming bookstore, I told myself I’d only purchase a book for my daughter if “the right one popped out.” I didn’t have much time nor spare money, and while the idea of purchasing a book for her upcoming birthday seemed like the best kind of gift to consider, the image of our children’s book mess all over the living room held my reservations in tact.
The bar was high.
But there it lept out at me. In the Black History Month display, bold colors and the portrait of a young artist that I long admired, pulled me to it.
Radiant Child, a reference we would like to apply to all our children, also uniquely references Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat has been credited as the artist marking a paradigm shift into more diverse voices in American high art. There is a line in the early pages composed by the sensitive and talented Javaka Steptoe, describing Basquiat’s drawings as “not neat or clean, nor does his color stay in the lines. They are sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.”
While the book is not filled with Basquiat replications, there is something even more compelling at work. Steptoe stated that the illustrations (earning a Caldecott Medal) are inspired by the style of Basquiat. He made an impression upon Steptoe as a young child, and fellow NYC native, both gravitating toward art, early, for salvation.
But what really made my creative heart explode, was Steptoe’s approach to creating his own work with repurposed wood, “I chose to create my own interpretations…,” upon, “found wood harvested from discarded Brooklyn Museum exhibit materials, the dumpsters of Brooklyn brownstones, and the streets of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.” The fusion of Steptoe and Basquiat is both electrifying and haunting.
It is an understatement that Basquiat left this world and the art world too soon, at the young age of twenty-seven. But in my dreams last night, and throughout my artistic gestures today, I feel the still roaming, giant spirit of Basquiat. I cannot wait to share this book and these artistic points of view with my daughter. And when I view the work of Basquiat, though I never met him, and though the details of our lives are quite different, I feel less alone.