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Thu, 12.22.1960

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Contemporary Artist born

Jean-Micahel Besquiat

This date marks the birth in 1950 of Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was a Black artist specializing in painting. Initially a street artist, his graffiti-inspired work won international acclaim during the 1980s.

Born to a Haitian father and a first-generation Afro Puerto Rican American mother, Basquiat grew up in Brooklyn.  As a child, he created drawings inspired by comic books and television cartoons.  His mother, who often took him to local art museums, nurtured his early interest in art. In May 1968, a car hit Basquiat.  He suffered a broken arm, and his spleen had to be removed.

While hospitalized, his mother gave him a copy of "Gray's Anatomy," a book that inspired many of his later works, as well as the name of the noise band he co-founded in 1979, Gray.  After his parents separated in 1968, Basquiat and his two sisters lived with their father, spending two years in Puerto Rico.  At 17, Basquiat dropped out of high school and lived, by choice, in the streets and with various friends.

Basquiat's career as an artist began in 1977 when he spray-painted New York City streets and subways with one of his high school classmates, Al Diaz. The works were signed SAMO, an acronym for "same old shit," and consisted of short poetic phrases such as "Plush safe he think; SAMO.” In December 1978, The Village Voice published an article about SAMO writings. While working on the SAMO project, which ended in 1979, Basquiat sold hand-painted postcards and T-shirts to make money.

Basquiat's art was exhibited in the 1980 Times Square Show for the first time. Art critics responded positively to Basquiat's debut, and in May of 1981, after being included in several group shows, he had his first solo exhibition in Modena, Italy. His first one-man show in the United States took place in March of 1982 at the Annina Nosei Gallery.

Basquiat was also featured in the 1983 Biennial exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, where he became the youngest artist to be included. Between 1983 and 1985, Basquiat produced 31 works in collaboration with Andy Warhol. Basquiat was devastated by the death in 1987 of Warhol, who had been his close friend and mentor. A year later, at 27, Basquiat died of a drug overdose in his New York apartment. Within eight years, Jean-Michel Basquiat went from being an anonymous tag-writer to an internationally celebrated artist. His large, colorful works combine graffiti art with abstract expressionism.

Some of Basquiat's paintings celebrate Black jazz musicians and boxers, while others address issues such as mortality, racism, and commercialism. Basquiat's rhythmic combination of words and images constitutes one of his most distinctive contributions to twentieth-century painting.

In 2017, a 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting of a skull sold at auction in New York for more than $110 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by an American artist or an artwork created after 1980.
Yusaku Maezawa of Japan, an e-commerce entrepreneur, and art collector, bought the Basquiat for $110,487,500 in 10 minutes of bidding, according to Sotheby's auction house.

To be an Artist


Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1999
ISBN 0-465-0071-1

Image by William Coupon

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