Born on December 22, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York, from Haitian and Puerto Rican roots, Jean-Michel Basquiat began to draw at an early age encouraged by his mother, herself a graphic designer.
“I’d say my mother gave me all the primary things. The art came from her” Basquiat
At the age of 19 Basquiat left home and started to live between the streets of the neighborhood, abandoned buildings and friends’ houses.
He sold sweatshirts and postcards featuring his artwork on the streets for living and started to attract New York citizens’ attention with critical poetry graffitied on subway wagons and the walls of Manhattan buildings.
SAMO (Same old shit) aimed to awaken the sedate.
Basquiat also had a great admiration for musicians like Joplin, Hendrix, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday.
“Since I was seventeen, I thought I might be a star. I’d think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix …. I had a romantic feeling of how people had become famous” Basquiat.
In 1979, Basquiat and Michael Holman met for the first time at “The Canal Zone” party, and decided to start a band together. An industrial sound band named Gray. Jean named the band after Gray’s Anatomy medical book, that he received as a gift from his mother in early childhood during a period of hospitalization.
His graffiti and art was certainly influenced by this book as well.
In Basquiat’s own words, his style was “incomplete, abrasive, and oddly beautiful.”
“Basquiat painted on anything he could get his hands on: refrigerators, laboratory coats, cardboard boxes, and doors” Mary Ann Monforton.
In 1980 made his first multi-artist show on the Time Square Show. It was the first time the marginal art of graffiti reached the mainstream world of galleries. In 1981, when exposing on the Institute for Art and Urban Resources, he met Andy Warhol, who played a determinant hole influencing Basquiat’s career.
His ascension was fast and spectacular. With only 22 years old he came to be a successful professional artist living of the sales of his work. His rise coincided with the emergence of a new art movement named Neo-Expressionism.
Although all the popularity, Basquiat still felt lonely and unhappy in his personal life; misunderstood, marginalized and exploited by art professionals, attendees and colleagues. Even his own gallerists took away his unfinished work to exhibit or sell.
At some point his drug addiction, paranoid and deteriorating health started to disrupt his social interaction and the development of his career.
“I am not a black artist, I am an artist.” Basquiat
“Jean-Michel called at 8:00 in the morning and we philosophized. He got scared reading the Belushi book. I told him that if he wanted to become a legend, too, he should just keep going on like he was. But actually if he’s even on the phone talking to me, he’s okay.” Andy Warhol
Warhol was practically his only reliable affective bond, and although their friendship had suffered greatly in the last years, Basquiat appeared to be devastated by the loss of his friend in February 1987.
“It put him into a total crisis …. He couldn’t even talk” Fred Braithwaite
“The death of Warhol made the death of Basquiat inevitable, somehow Warhol was the one person that always seemed to be able to bring Jean-Michel back from the edge. Always when Jean-Michel was in the most trouble it seemed that Andy Warhol was the person who he would approach …. After Andy was gone there was no one that Jean-Michel was in such awe of that he would respond to” Donald Rubell
Basquiat died of a drug overdose on August 12, 1988, in New York City. He was 27 years old.
Jean-Michel Basquiat – The Radiant Child. Documentary released in 2010.
Basquiat – a film by Julian Schnabel