Born in Brooklyn, NY, 1960
Died in New York, NY, 1988
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn to a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother. He is said to have been able to read at 4 and could speak and write in Spanish, French and English by 11. His artistic talent surfaced at an early age, prompting his mother to enroll him as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum at the age of six. He attended City-As-School High School in Brooklyn, but left a year before graduating in 1978 to pursue other opportunities.
Working under the name SAMO meaning “same old same old,” Basquiat began his career in the late 1970s as a graffiti artist, spray-painting the streets of lower Manhattan with messages about commercialization of the art world. Initially supporting himself by selling painted postcards and T-shirts, he quickly rose to prominence in the 1980s and became one of the era’s most famous “art stars.” Exhibiting in Europe and Asia as well as throughout the United States, he became the youngest artist ever to be included in the documenta exhibit in Kassel, Germany in 1982. Even when he shifted his focus away from street art toward more traditional painting, these origins remained apparent.
Basquiat’s work merged figuration, expressionism, and textual references in thick paint, aggressive brushstrokes, and vibrant color. His process often involved pasting a sketch to the canvas–which lent his work a physicality that reflected the urban surfaces of his artistic origins. Although often veiled behind pictographs and seemingly random scrawled phrases or words, his work is very much a social commentary, addressing such dichotomies as wealth vs. poverty or segregation vs. inclusivity.