Steptoe chronicles the formative years and evolving style of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a Brooklyn-born graffiti artist with a rising career in the 1980s fine arts world; coverage ceases before his untimely drug-related death at age 27.
Steptoe’s canvas is wood salvaged from the Brooklyn Museum and locales that Basquiat frequented. Spaces between the patched fragments contribute to the impression of a disjointed childhood. Steptoe shows that Basquiat was smart and driven early on, influenced by his Haitian father’s jazz records and his Puerto Rican mother’s style, encouragement, breakdown, and institutionalization when he was only 7. Prior to that, she drew with him, took him to see Picasso’s Guernica, and gave him Grey’s Anatomy following a serious car accident. Images of body parts imprint his increasingly complex political paintings, along with other recurring motifs explained in outstanding backmatter. Several sentences per spread speak with understated lyricism and poignancy, an occasional internal rhyme underscoring a point: “Jean-Michel is confused and filled with a terrible blues / when Matilde can no longer live at home.” Acknowledging his multifaceted sense of connection, Steptoe interprets Basquiat’s style instead of inserting particular works. Vibrant colors and personal symbols channel the “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL” paintings, incorporating meticulously attributed collage elements and capturing the artist’s energy and mystery.
Stellar bookmaking—a riveting portrait of a young artist. (author’s note, bibliography, biography) (Picture book/biography. 6-12)