Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist. He came into prominence in the 1980s for being one of the leading lights of the neo expressionist era. His father was employed as an accountant. Although he learnt to read and write by himself as a child, he did not do as well as he would have liked at school. He dropped out of school and studied at a school of alternative education where he learnt art. When his father forced him to move out of his house after quitting school, he started selling T-shirts in order to take care of his expenses. After a few years, he partnered with a friend to create ‘SAMO,’ a group that painted graffiti on buildings in New York. His work as a graffiti artist got him noticed. His work also landed him a job in a T-shirt company. He even had his own musical band that performed at particular nightclubs. Though he was multi-talented, it was his work as a painter that made him famous in the 1980s. Eventually, his work found a lot of buyers due to the high demand of new expressionist art.
Childhood & Early Life
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on 22 December 1960, in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States, to Gerard Basquiat and Matilda Andrades. His father, who was from Haiti, was an accountant by profession. Basquiat was the second of four children. He had an older brother Max who died shortly before Basquiat’s birth. He also had two younger sisters, Lisane and Jeanine.
He learnt to read and write by the time he was four years old. In addition to that, he also showed great interest in arts from an early age. He studied at ‘Edward R. Murrow High School,’ located in Brooklyn, but quit school when he was in his tenth grade.
When he quit school, his father was displeased with his decision and asked him to move out of his house. He then lived with his friends and studied at ‘City-As-School,’ a school of alternative education that taught students who could not complete formal school education. During these years, he supported himself by selling post cards and T-shirts.
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Jean-Michel Basquiat started his career as a graffiti artist in 1976. He teamed up with his friend Al Diaz and used spray paints to paint graffiti on buildings located in the Lower Manhattan area of New York City. They worked under the pseudonym ‘SAMO’ and continued to work as graffiti artists for the next three years.
In 1978, he started working as an artist for ‘Unique Clothing Warehouse,’ located in North of Houston Street in Manhattan, New York City. The owner of the company was impressed with his work as a graffiti artist and gave him the job. Around that time, his graffiti art was featured in an article published by ‘The Village Voice.’
He appeared on television for the first time in 1979 in a show titled ‘TV Party.’ He then worked for the show for some years.
In 1979, he founded a rock band called ‘Test Pattern’ along with Michael Holman, Wayne Clifford, Nick Taylor, Shannon Dawson, and Vincent Gallo. The band performed at several well-known nightclubs. The following year, he appeared in the film ‘Downtown 81.’ Artist Andy Warhol was impressed with his paintings and the two worked on joint projects a few years down the line.
In 1980, he exhibited his works of art at ‘The Times Square Show.’ In the same year, he started working on his inaugural one man show, which was hosted the following year. His one man show was a resounding success and ‘Artforum’ magazine published his notable work ‘The Radian Child.’ A year later, he spent some time in Modena, Italy as part of his work.
The early-1980s saw him gain recognition as an artist. His artworks, which include the fusion of words, figures, and symbols, made him one of the most important artists of the time. His paintings were being sold for $50,000 apiece and the emergence of neo-expressionism during that time helped his cause as well.
In 1983, he worked at art dealer Larry Gagosian’s home studio in Venice, California for his show that took place later that year at the ‘Gagosian Gallery.’ In the same year, he produced a rap single in collaboration with K-Rob and Rammellzee. Upon the insistence of art dealer Bruno Bischofberger, he collaborated with Andy Warhol in 1983 and produced paintings for the next two years, the most famous of them being ‘Olympic Rings.’
He went to Abidjan, situated in Ivory Coast, Africa, for a show in 1986. During his stay in Africa, he was inspired by African art. After his African tour, he produced about 60 works that were exhibited at the ‘Gesellschaft Gallery,’ located in Hanover.
A painting that he produced in 1982, which bears no title, is considered to be his most important work. It is the image of a skull and is an excellent reflection of the versatility that he possessed as an artist. The painting was sold for a whopping $110.5 million in 2017 at Sotheby’s auction.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jean-Michel Basquiat never got married, but was known to have been in a relationship with singer Madonna. He had no children.
He died on 12 August 1988, at the age of 27, in Manhattan, New York, due to drug overdose.