Jean-Michel Basquiat was an influential African-American artist who rose to success during the 1980s. Basquiat’s paintings are largely responsible for elevating graffiti artists. His spray-painted crowns and scribbled words, referenced everything from his Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage, to political issues, pop-culture icons, and Biblical verse.
The gestural marks and expressive nature of his work not only aligned him with the street art of Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, but also the Neo-Expressionists Julian Schnabel and David Salle.
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, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.
Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a tool for introspection and for identifying with his experiences in the black community of his time, as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism. Basquiat’s visual poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle. Basquiat’s art has inspired many in the hip hop music community such as Jay-Z.
Basquiat never finished high school but developed an appreciation for art as a youth, from his many visits to the Brooklyn Museum of Art with his mother. His early work consisted of spray-painting buildings and trains in downtown New York. The artist’s tag was the now infamous pseudonym SAMO. After quickly rising to fame in the early 1980s, Basquiat was befriended by many celebrities and artists, including Andy Warhol, with whom he made several collaborative works. At only 27, his troubles with fame and drug addiction led to his tragic death from an overdose.
The Whitney Museum of American Art held the artist’s first retrospective from October 1992 to February 1993. In 2017, after having set Basquiat’s auction record the previous year with a $57.3 million purchase, the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa surpassed it, On May 18, 2017 at a Sotheby’s auction, buying a 1982 painting by Basquiat depicting a black skull with red and black rivulets for $110.5 million. This set a new record for the highest price ever paid at auction for an American artist’s work.
“Believe it or not, I can actually draw”