Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother. His career as a graffiti artist and musician were fostered in the 1980’s New York Art Scene. Under the pseudonym SAMO he’d leave poetical messages impregnated on city walls… “Plush safe he thinks’… ‘SAMO as an alternative to the bourgeois”. With his crowning of trademark dreadlocks, Basquiat was a regular downtown fixture – he’d go on to become one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
Jean-Michel is credited with introducing graffiti into the realm of fine art. His paintings, often described as childlike; dealing with human anatomy, dense imagery, and his African-American heritage. The mixture of Afrocentric themes with graffiti, anchored on canvas with his esoteric texts and symbols was unconventional and hard to ignore.
His genius trapped in a burgeoning art movement set on ‘crazed’ did nothing to help slow down the excesses he became a victim of. At the age of twenty-seven, he was found dead of a drug overdose in his Great Jones loft. The Radiant Child had left his canvassed works behind screaming at the world, their many faces torturing and riveting, like his legacy. The Whitney Museum of American Art held the first retrospective of his work from October 1992 to February 1993, and in 2016 his large canvas Untitled (1982) broke auction records with a final price of $57.3 million.
“He disrupted the politics of the art world and insisted that if he had to play their games, he would make the rules. His images entered the dreams and museums of the exploiters, and the world would never be the same.” – Keith Haring
Basquiat is sometimes more commonly talked of in the context of the celebrity than artistically; his friendships/collaborations with Pop Art icon Andy Warhol still get critiqued in the vortex of pop culture phenomena. But there’s so much more.
Enjoy these excellent links for more information on the life of Basquiat:
- The official Basquiat website.
- For a closer look at Basquiat works now in circulation and editorial imprints from those still inspired by the Radiant Child, try Artsy’s resource.
- Use this link or this one, to read ‘The Radiant Child,’ Rene Ricard’s 1981 Artforum article that launched Basquiat onto the art world.
Watch Basquiat, the movie directed by Julian Schnabel starring Jeffrey Wright as Basquiat.
Or rent, Basquiat: The Radiant Child, this Tamra Davis movie boasts never seen footage.
At Basquiat’s memorial, Fab 5 Freddy “interpolated” the poem ‘Genius Child’ by Langston Hughes. You can read it here.
Did you know Basquiat’s Great Jones Street Loft was immortalized last year?
1st Dibs has rare vinyl record albums with offset cover art from Jean Michel Basquiat’s band, Gray.
How could I forget the movie he starred in, Downtown 81 – that bizarre urban fairytale-like dream that mirrored his early life. You can stream the remastered 30th Anniversary edition on Amazon Video.*images Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1985 Photo: AP