Jean-Michel Basquiat | Painter and Graffiti Artist

(December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988)

“I don’t think about art when I’m working. I think about life.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist during the 1980s as part of the Neo-expressionism movement. His father was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and his mother was born in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican parents.

Born and raised in New York, Basquiat first achieved notoriety as part of SAMO (shorthand for “same old shit”), an informal graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s where the hip hop, post-punk, and street art movements had coalesced. By the 1980s, he was exhibiting his neo-expressionist paintings in galleries and museums internationally. Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies”, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.

Basquiat primarily used texts as reference sources. A few of the books he used were Gray’s Anatomy, Henry Dreyfuss’ Symbol SourcebookLeonardo da Vinci published by Reynal & Company, and Burchard Brentjes’ African Rock ArtFlash of the Spirit by Robert Farris Thompson. From late 1982 to 1985, his work featured multi-panel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and imagery. The years 1984 to 1985 were also the period of the Basquiat–Warhol collaborations. The crown, Basquiat’s signature artistic motif, both acknowledged and challenged the history of Western art. “Jean-Michel’s crown has three peaks, for his three royal lineages: the poet, the musician, the great boxing champion,” said artist Francesco Clemente.

Basquiat died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose in 1988, but his work has steadily increased in value. In 2017, a 1982 painting depicting a black skull with red and yellow rivulets named Untitled sold for $110.5 million, becoming one of the most expensive paintings ever purchased. (Source)

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