JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT

(1960 – 1988)

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an artist who became one of the most celebrated American “naif” painters of the Neo-Expressionism art movement in the 1980s.

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960, to a Haitian immigrant father and a mother of Puerto Rican heritage, a combination which led to his fluency in French, Spanish, and English. The precocious Basquiat demonstrated a talent for art at an early age and was enrolled as a Junior Member of the Brooklyn Museum. He first attracted attention as a teenage graffiti poet and musician, particularly for his graffiti adorning the subway trains and buildings of New York City, signed with the moniker “SAMO.”

At twenty years of age, he transitioned from his graffiti work to selling paintings in SoHo galleries. By 1981, his painting career took off; art connoisseurs began purchasing his artwork, and his gallery shows were routinely sold out. Basquiat’s rich cultural heritage greatly influenced his work; a black-hatted figure that appears in several of his paintings is believed to represent Baron Samedi, the chief of the Gede family of spirits in Haitian Vodou. In the mid-1980s, he collaborated with Andy Warhol, which led to an exhibition of their work. Basquiat graced the cover of The New York Times Magazine in 1985 as part of a feature article that declared him to be the hot young American artist of the 1980s.

Tragically, Basquiat became increasingly addicted to heroin and cocaine, and he ultimately died of a drug overdose in 1988 at the age of twenty-seven. Despite the brevity of his art career, Basquiat’s artistic accomplishments have significance for twentieth-century art as a whole and his art remains a constant source of inspiration for contemporary artists.