Philistines 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat – 6 Interesting Facts

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Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist whose graffiti-style paintings made him an overnight celebrity in the New York art scene. Born in Brooklyn, he was a leading figure in Punk Art and Neo-Expressionism where the human figure reemerged in art. Historians regard him and his works as products of the countercultural movement of the 80s. Here are some interesting facts about this influential artist:

1. Basquiat came from a culturally rich, yet troubled family.

  • His father was an immigrant from Haiti and his mother was an American of Puerto Rican ancestry. This combined heritage made him fluent in English, Spanish, and French.
  • After his parents divorced and his mother was institutionalized for mental illness, he left his father’s care due to physical and emotional abuse. He spent the next years homeless, staying at friends’ houses, park benches, and abandoned buildings.
Scull 1981 Jean-Michel Basquiat
Scull, 1981, also known as Untitled (Head) by Jean-Michel Basquiat

2. Basquiat and two graffiti artists created the persona named “SAMO”.

  • Stylized as “SAMO©”, the tag stands for “Same Old Shit” and was used with messages they painted around the East Village, SoHo, and New York subway.
  • SAMO gained popularity with the counterculture press for its anti-religion, anti-politics, and anti-establishment ideology. The project ended due to a quarrel, with “SAMO IS DEAD” as its parting message.
Poison Oasis 1981 Jean-Michel Basquiat
Poison Oasis, 1981, Basquiat combined acrylic and spray paint to produce his neo-expressionist works

3. Basquiat’s street smarts and daring were instrumental in his rise to fame.

  • Homeless, he supported himself by begging on the streets, and peddling postcards and sweatshirts featuring his art. Like most youth in his time, he also dealt with drugs.
  • With the rise of graffiti art and Neo-Expressionism, Basquiat’s work finally gained traction in the Times Square Show, a landmark Punk Art exhibit. His first solo exhibition came two years later.
50 Cent Piece 1983 Jean-Michel Basquiat
50 Cent Piece, 1983, an example of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s dense compositions of unconnected images and text

4. His style was shaped by his history, both urban and ethnic.

  • He created collages using a blend of graffiti and African-Caribbean imagery (e.g., bones, skulls, arrows) with scrawled lines and thick daubs of color. This untrained, but instinctive gestural technique gave his art unique rawness and depth.
  • Many of his works depict black celebrities such as writers, athletes, and musicians. He also often featured the griot, an oral storyteller in Western African societies.
Philistines 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat
Philistines, 1982, Basquiat deliberately priced and sold this piece cheaply for just $570 as a protest against the exploitation of his work

5. Though very young, Basquiat’s talent captured the interest of Andy Warhol.

  • He was the youngest artist to join “documenta,” an international exhibition of contemporary and modern art held every five years in Germany.
  • Basquiat befriended and collaborated with Warhol, creating paintings in which the senior artist’s Pop Art was layered with graffiti. They also created “Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper)” in which they expressed how their art was being “beaten up” by critics.
Dos Cabezas 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat
Dos Cabezas, 1982, a self-portrait of Basquiat with famous Pop Artist Andy Warhol

6. He died after seven short years in the industry.

  • Basquiat’s rise to prominence was accompanied with an equal rise to his personal struggles. He vacationed in Hawaii to kick his heroin addiction, but ultimately failed and died of an overdose.
  • His life story has been the subject of several biographies and documentaries. Former friend David Bowie played Andy Warhol in the film “Basquiat.”
Head of a Fryer 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat
Head of a Fryer, 1982, acrylic on wood sculpture following the neo-expressionist style

Through his talent and inner grit, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s works went from downtown walls to international galleries. His works elevated graffiti as a recognized and embraced art form in contemporary art.

References

Britannica.com
Biography.com
TheArtStory.org

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