Preview | Basquiat: Rage to Riches - About the Film

Photograph by Yutaka Sakano

Premieres Friday, September 14 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)

Available to stream September 15 on and on PBS apps

With the four-part Artists Flight series, American Masters explores the lives of iconic visual artists Eva Hesse, Elizabeth Murray, Andrew Wyeth and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

One of the most influential American artists of the 20th century, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a rock star of the early ’80s New York art scene. He lived fast, died young and created thousands of drawings and paintings. It took less than a decade for Basquiat, an accountant’s son from Brooklyn, to go from anonymous graffiti writer known as SAMO© to an epoch-defining art star. Today, Basquiat is in the top tier of the international art market along with Picasso, de Kooning, and Francis Bacon. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Basquiat’s untimely death from a heroin overdose. In death, he has emerged as one of the most important artists of his generation and now exhibits in museums all over the world.

American Masters Basquiat: Rage to Riches features exclusive interviews with Basquiat’s two sisters, Lisane and Jeanine, who have never before spoken about their brother and his art for a television documentary. With striking candor, art world colleagues, including dealers Bruno Bischofberger, Larry Gagosian and Mary Boone, and Basquiat’s most intimate friends, lovers and fellow artists draw a portrait of a handsome, charismatic and fragile personality – also divulging the cash, drugs and pernicious racism that he encountered. The main weapon Basquiat used to fight prejudice was his art. A game changer, his painting embodied and reflected breakthroughs in music, poetry and a new type of expressionism in modern art. Directed and produced by David Shulman, the film will be available on Digital HD on September 15 and on DVD September 25 via PBS Distribution.

American Masters Basquiat: Rage to Riches is a BBC Studios Production for PBS and BBC in association with THIRTEEN Productions LLC. David Shulman is director and producer. Janet Lee is executive producer for the BBC. Bill Gardner is executive producer for PBS. Mark Bell is commissioning editor for the BBC.

Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional support provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Judith and Burton Resnick, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation and public television viewers.

“Hollywood Africans” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. All Jean-Michel Basquiat works © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat used with permission of Artestar, NYC

See more artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat.


Transcript Print

Now he was hot He was hot.

Jean-Michel was gonna make things happen in the creative space by any means necessary.

He did whatever he needed to do in order to be a painter and in order to be an artist and I think it takes a tremendous amount of balls to do that.

I'd never seen a black artist with this kind of unbelievable talent and unbelievable charisma.

The word got out in the art world very quickly that there was a genius working in Anita's basement This work that's just screaming revolutions their intentions The idea popped up like let's start Museum Club.

Jean would get a good kick out of that guy's crown.

You don't envision that your brother would be famous but it is always something that he felt that he would be 'I feel like, I was right you know I mean...' Jean Michel grabs my arm and says 'Oh my god, it's Andy.'

Where? Where?

And, Andy was like, 'Oh god, you're so fast and these are so great!' And that was the beginning of everything between Andy and Jean-Michel All of a sudden we went from total poverty to having so much money that we didn't know what to do with it He got paid in cash, he got paid in drugs I never did that.

He had this real fear that he wasn't really allowed in because it was a mostly white affluent world.

I think Jean became very paranoid and suspicious of even Andy and he had this reputation of being a vampire and feeding off of younger artists.

He felt guilty because he dropped Andy.

and then he really got into drugs.

But I could have done anything to prevent that from happening I would have and should of.

The old show was like a prophecy of his death.

It was like a goodbye... Already I felt it.

As his sister, almost 30 years later I continue to be saddened by the fact that my brother isn't still here.

I think if you want to know what there is to know about Jean-Michel the place to go is to his work.