The Radiant Child

My father continues to be a thread running through all things. How could he not? I recently watched a video about the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. It’s not the film that Julian Schnabel made several years ago. It’s a documentary that a friend of Basquiat’s produced from interviews, old footage, and many photos of him she and others had taken of Jean-Michel during this life. It is called The Radiant Child and I highly recommend it. I have seen it now three times in the last week. I plan to watch it at least once more before I turn it back into the library.

Basquiat left his middle class home in Brooklyn at age 17 and started to hang out on the streets of Manhattan. His Haitian father was an accountant, his Puerto Rican mother took him to art museums when he was growing up.  He started out making graffiti art, writing short, poetic messages on walls with the tag SAMO. The underground art scene in lower Manhattan in the late 1970s was very close knit and soon, young gallery dealers saw the energy and potential in his work and encouraged him to paint on canvas instead of on walls.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dos Cabezas, 1982. A self portait with Andy Warhol
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dos Cabezas, 1982. A self portait with Andy Warhol

By the age of 20, he was having gallery shows and selling his art in Manhattan. By 23 he had become  internationally  famous. Money started to fall on him, and he was befriended by Andy Warhol. But fast fame and money took its toll on him, and even though in some ways, he was incredibly strong and resilient, in other ways, he was an extremely sensitive soul. He started to do heroin to block out the critics and the difficulty of hanging onto the fame that came so quick and early. By 27, he was dead.

This story has really grabbed hold of me. For one thing, the years in which Basquiat started out in Manhattan are the exact years that Georg was there, trying to gain recognition. I see now what my dad was up against. You could be the most innovative and interesting artist in the world, but if the “art world” was not ready for you, you had no chance. On the flip side, if the art world let you go, that was the end of you. Only in death then, would you remain, and your work would be a testimony to your unique vision.

I don’t know what any of this means for the work of Georg Vihos. I just know nothing happens by accident. No sooner had I become fascinated by Basquiat than he appeared on the cover the NYT magazine: “The Rediscovered Genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat.”  Some journals of his have been uncovered and made public. Artists leave behind a lot of marks telling who they are. I know that and this is why it seems imperative (and herculean) to protect and maintain the legacy of Georg Vihos.

But no matter how large this task may be, along with my sister, I will do it. We are doing it.

We are. We will.

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