Jean-Michel Basquiat

April 12, 2011


Tamra Davis


About the Documentary

Centered on a rare interview that director and friend Tamra Davis shot with Jean-Michel Basquiat more than 20 years ago, this film chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of the young artist. In the crime-ridden New York City of the 1970s, he covers the city with the graffiti tag ‘SAMO.’ In 1981 he puts paint on canvas for the first time, and by 1983 he is an artist with “rock star status.” He achieves critical and commercial success, though he is constantly confronted by racism from his peers.

In 1985, he and Andy Warhol become close friends and painting collaborators, but they part ways and Warhol dies suddenly in 1987. Basquiat’s heroin addiction worsens, and he dies of an overdose in 1988 at the age of 27. The artist was 25 years old at the height of his career, and today his canvases sell for more than a million dollars.

This is a song for the genius child.
Sing it softly, for the song is wild.
Sing it softly as ever you can
Lest it get out of hand.
Nobody loves a genius child.
Can you love an eagle,
Tame or wild?
Can you love an eagle,
Wild or tame?
Can you love a monster of frightening name?
Nobody loves a genius child.
Free him – and let his soul run wild.

— Langston Hughes, ‘Genius Child’

With the intimacy only a close friend could have, Tamra Davis details the mysteries that surround this charismatic young man, an artist of enormous talent whose fortunes mirrored the roller-coaster quality of the downtown scene he seemed to embody.

Featuring interviews with Julian Schnabel, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Fab 5 Freddy, Jeffrey Deitch, Glenn O’Brien, Maripol, Kai Eric, Nicholas Taylor, Fred Hoffmann, Michael Holman, Diego Cortez, Annina Nosei, Suzanne Mallouk, Rene Ricard, Kenny Scharf, among many others.

The Filmmaker

Tamra Davis is a film, television, and music video director. She has made music videos for bands such as N.W.A, Sonic Youth, and Hanson. Her Tone Loc video for “Wild Thing” was one of MTV’s most played videos of the 1980s. Her feature film credits include Guncrazy, Billy Madison, and Half Baked with Dave Chapelle. After she directed Crossroads with Britney Spears, she temporarily retired to have children with her husband — Mike D. of the Beastie Boys. While spending much time at home and on the road with her family, she discovered a love for television and directed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and My Name Is Earl.

Full Credits


  • Sundance Film Festival

    Grand Jury Prize (Nominated)

Learn more about the documentary

Join the Discussion

At what point does “illegal” art, such as graffiti tagging and wheat pasting, become high art? Who gets to be the arbiter of what constitutes “outsider art”?


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