Jean-Michel Basquiat’s career spanned just one short decade, yet he is considered one of the best-known artists of his generation and one of only a small number of Hispanic-African-American artists to have achieved international recognition. Graduating from subway walls to canvas and from the streets of New York to the galleries of SoHo, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and his work will forever remain a mystery to those who seek explanation. Popular Jean Michel Basquiat works include graffiti influenced naive, expressionist paintings, often including text and images from popular culture. Many paintings were also painted on found objects, old boards, and furniture.
It cannot be denied that during the eight years that Jean-Michel Basquiat painted, his work examines the legacy of the colonial enterprise and his relationship to that legacy. Whether recasting the work of European masters like Leonardo da Vinci in his own terms or recounting events from Haitian, Puerto Rican, African and African American history, Jean-Michel Basquiat presented a vision of a fragmented self in search of an organizing principle. Basquiat’s paintings continue to influence modern-day artists and command high prices.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Gerard Basquiat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and his mother, Matilde was born in Brooklyn of Puerto Rican parents. Because of his parents’ nationalities, Basquiat was fluent in French, Spanish, and English and often read Symbolist poetry, mythology, history and medical texts, particularly Gray’s Anatomy in those languages Early on, Basquiat displayed a proficiency in art which was encouraged by his mother. Jean-Michel’s early years were spent with his middle-class Haitian father, Gerard, who was unable to fulfill his son’s need for nurturing and recognition.
Art became an outlet for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s anger and empty childhood. In 1977, Basquiat, along with friend Al Diaz begins spray painting cryptic aphorisms on subway trains and around lower Manhattan and signing them with the name SAMO© (Same Old Shit). Sample sayings by SAMO include: SAMO as a neo art form, SAMO as an end to to mind wash religion, nowhere politics and bogus philosophy, SAMO as an escape clause, SAMO as an end to playing art, SAMO as an end to bogus pseudo intellectual. My mouth, therefore an error. Plush safe.. he think, SAMO as an alternative 2 playing art with the ‘radical chic’ sect on Daddy’s $ funds. In December 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the writings. The SAMO project ended with the epitaph “SAMO IS DEAD” written on the walls of SoHo buildings.
In 1978 Jean-Michel Basquiat left home for good and quit school just one year before graduating form high school. He lived with friends and began selling hand painted postcards and T-shirts. Jean-Michel was 18 when Jean-Michel Basquiat approached Geldzahler and Andy Warhol in a SoHo restaurant. He sold Andy a postcard for one dollar but was dismissed by Geldzahler as “too young.” In June of 1980, Basquiat’s art was publicly exhibited for the first time in a show sponsored by Colab (Collaborative Projects Incorporated) along with the work of Jenny Holzer, Lee Quinones, Kenny Scharf, Kiki Smith, Robin Winters, John Ahearn, Jane Dickson, Mike Glier, Mimi Gross, and David Hammons. Basquiat continued to exhibit his work around New York City and in Europe, participating in shows along with the likes of Keith Haring, Barbara Kruger. In 1981 Jean-Michel Basquiat was invited by artist and filmmaker, Diego Cortez, to participate in the P.S. 1 show, (Institute for Art and Urban Resources), alongside more than twenty artists including Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kenny Sharf and Andy Warhol.
Later that year poet and artist Rene Ricard published the first major article on Basquiat entitled “The Radiant Child” in Artforum. The following year, in 1982 Basquiat was featured in the group show “Transavanguardia: Italia/America”. Jean-Michel took the art world by storm with his rampageous one-man show at Annina Nosei’s gallery. This momentum propelled him to the forefront of the Neo-Expressionist movement which was characterized by intense subjectivity of feeling and aggressively raw handling of materials. Jean-Michel, accustomed to pushing the envelope in all aspects of his life, had something special to offer the neo-expressionist admirer: “I cross out words so you will see them more – the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.” By the age of 24 Jean-Michel would be a veteran of one-man shows. Bruno Bischofberger introduced Jean-Michel’s art overseas as well as orchestrated the joint collaboration of Warhol and Basquiat in 1985 which involved some 60 works.
In 1985,Jean-Michel Basquiat was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as the epitome of the hot, young artist in a booming market. In March of the same year , Basquiat had his second one-artist show at the Mary Boone Gallery. In the exhibition catalogue, Robert Farris Thompson spoke of Basquiat’s work in terms of an Afro-Atlantic tradition, a context in which this art had never been discussed. During 1986, Basquiat travelled to Africa for the first time and his work was shown in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
In November, a large exhibition of more than sixty paintings and drawings opened at the Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hannover. Just twenty-five, Jean-Michel Basquiat was the youngest artist ever given an exhibition there. In 1988, Basquiat had shows in both Paris and New York; the New York show was praised by some critics, an encouraging development. As early as 1984, many of Basquiat’s friends had become quite concerned about his excessive drug use, often finding him unkempt and in a state of paranoia.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paranoia was also fueled by the very real threat of people stealing work from his apartment and of art dealers taking unfinished work from his studio. Basquiat attempted to kick his heroin addiction by leaving the temptations of New York for his ranch in Hawaii. Jean-Michel Basquiat returned to New York in June claiming to be drug-free. On August 12, Basquiat died as the result of a heroin overdose. Jean-Michel Basquiat was 27.