Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat to Be Portrayed by Kelvin Harrison Jr in Biopic

basquiat film

Celebrated artist Jean-Michel Basquiat will have his life examined in a biopic from director Julius Onah, with Cyrano star Kelvin Harrison Jr taking on the lead role.

Titled Samo Lives — in a nod to the name Basquiat signed his graffiti with the film will celebrate the life, career and impact of the groundbreaking New York-born, Haitian-Puerto Rican American artist whose iconic paintings and street art defined the Neo-expressionism arts movement of the 1980s.

Born December 22, 1960, Basquiat’s work explored the themes of wealth versus poverty and integration versus segregation as well his experiences with racism as a Black man.

In 1983, Basquiat became the youngest artist to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York, at just 22 years old. He sold his first painting in 1981 to none other than singer Debbie Harry, and become a mainstay of the New York art scene along with Keith Haring and Andy Warhol, the latter of whom he frequently collaborated with.

Having experienced substance dependency for most of his adult life, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27 in 1988, but his work has continued to increase in value and be revered in the art world. In 2017, his painting ‘Untitled’ sold for USD$110.5 million, becoming one of the most expensive paintings ever purchased and subsequently raising the bar for an American artist at auction.

Basquiat produced around 1500 drawings, around 600 paintings, and many sculptures and mixed media works over the course of his short career and has been exhibited in galleries all over the world. Recently, one of his rarely seen pieces — ‘Equals Pi’ —  featured in an advert for Tiffany & Co, along with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, a 128-carat diamond.

In a statement, Onah explained the importance of Basquiat’s legacy and why he felt compelled to produce a film about the artist.

“Jean-Michel Basquiat redefined the idea of who ascends to the highest altitudes of the fine art world. But the complexity and richness of his experience as an artist and child of the African diaspora has yet to be dramatized in the manner it deserves,” Onah wrote.

“It’s an honour to work with Kelvin and my collaborators, and with Endeavor Content, to celebrate the legacy of an artist who has invited audiences everywhere to be inspired by the transformative power of art.”

While Basquiat has been the subject of several films and documentaries, such as 2009’s Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child and 1996’s Basquiat, starring Jeffrey Wright as the artist, this will be the first time a Black filmmaker has helmed a project about the artist.

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