Jean-Michel Basquiat was a famous twentieth century Haitian-American artist. He earned his reputation being part of an informal graffiti group called SAMO. He drew graffiti and wrote enigmatic epigrams in the lower east side of Manhattan known as a cultural hotbed. Later in his career he earned a name for himself by exhibiting his Neo-expressionist and Primitivist paintings in galleries and museums around the world. His art was concerned with ‘suggestive dichotomies’ such as wealth versus poverty.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His mother of Puerto Rican descent, Matilde Basquiat, helped him develop love of art when she took him to visit art museums. Also he was enrolled at the Brooklyn Museum of Art as a junior member. Basquiat was a child prodigy and from an early age of four he displayed a precocious talent for art. His mother and teachers were aware of his artistic gift and encouraged him to perfect his skills. At the age of 11, he mastered reading, writing and speaking skills in three different languages including French, Spanish and English. At the age of eight, Basquiat survived a car accident and while recuperating his mother brought him Gray’s Anatomy to keep him company. Turned out the book helped him shape his artistic outlook.
Basquiat belonged to a broken and dysfunctional family. His parents were separated in his childhood and later his mother was institutionalized. When he turned 15, he ran away from home and lived on the streets before he was arrested and returned to his father. After dropping out of high school, his father threw him out of the house and thereupon he stayed with his friends and made a living out of selling T-shirts and post cards. In mid 1970s he began spray painting graffiti on building with the notorious SAMO group. Even after attaining a job at the Unique Clothing Warehouse in the art department, Basquiat continued his night shift with SAMO. However, when he became friends with Unique’s founder and The Village Voice published a piece on graffiti, SAMO ended.
Subsequently, Basquiat stepped into a different line of work. He made regular appearances on Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, live cable show. Moreover, he formed a noise rock band Test Pattern, which was later renamed Gray. The band members included Michael Holman, Shannon Dawson, Wayne Clifford, Vincent Gallo and Nick Taylor. They performed at nightclubs such as the Mudd Club, Max’s Kansas City and Hurrah. Besides performing in a band, Basquiat was also starred in O’Brien’s independent film Downtown 81. Also he had a chance to meet another notable artist, Andy Warhol, at a restaurant. Warhol was impressed by Basquiat’s work and later they collaborated on several projects.
The early eighties is marked as the time when Basquiat earned success as a solo artist. He participated in the famous multi-artist exhibition, The Times Square Show. He also worked in Modena, Italy and began working on a series of painting for the 1983 exhibition held at Gagosian Gallery. During this time, he found Robert Rauschenberg’s work interesting and inspiring. Furthermore, he also had an opportunity to briefly work with David Bowie, a leading artist and musician. Between 1983 and 1985, upon request of a Swiss dealer, Basquiat collaborated with Andy Warhol on several painting projects.
In 1987, Basquiat took the news of Andy Warhol’s demise quite badly and became increasingly isolated and depressed. A tragic series of events transpired the next year when the drug overdose claimed Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life at the age of 27.