Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an influential neo-expressionist artist of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent during the 1980s. He mixed poetry, drawing and abstraction with primitive style and became widely known for his collaboration with Andy Warhol.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988)

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Early Life

Extrait de Grillo
Extrait de Grillo, 1984

Image source: by Yann Caradec

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in New York, on December 22, 1960, he was the second of four children of Matilde Basquiat and Gérard Basquiat. He began to paint graffiti from early childhood. His teacher – artist José Machado, noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother Matilde encouraged her son’s artistic skills. Basquiat started attending an exclusive private school in 1967. By the way Basquiat never finished his high school, perhaps he would rather visit the Brooklyn Museum of Art than attend school. His early works consisted of spray painting with cryptic aphorisms. He preferred to work on trains and buildings. In this period he attracted the attention of the public for his graffiti under the name “SAMO.” In his early works Basquiat used a crown motif, which was a special way of celebrating Black people as saints.

Museum Security
Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown), 1983

Image source: by Yann Caradec

Exhibition period

In June 1980 Basquiat took part in “The Times Square Show”, which was an exhibition sponsored by Fashion Moda and Collaborative Projects Incorporated. That exhibition was noticed by various critics and curators. One year later Basquiat participated in the “New York/New Waveexhibit curated by Diego Cortez. During this period, Basquiat painted a lot of his pieces on objects he used to find on the streets, such as discarded doors.

Untitled (1981 head)
Untitled (1981 head), 1981. Acrylic and oilstick on canvas (1960-1988) Broad Collection
Peter and the Wolf
Peter and the Wolf, 1985

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Basquiat’s first painting “Cadillac Moon(1981) was sold for $200 to singer Debbie Harry. In June 1982, Basquiat took part in “Documenta” in Kassel, where his works were exhibited next to Anselm Kiefer’s, Joseph Beuys’ and Andy Warhol‘s. Later Warhol and Basquiat became very close and made several collaborative works.

Cadillac Moon
Cadillac Moon,1981

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Jazz and art

Horn Players
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Horn Players, 1983, acrylic and oilstick on three canvas panels mounted on wood supports

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In 1983 two famous men: Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie appear in Basquiat’s “Horn Players”. Parker, nicknamed “Bird”, holds his saxophone on the left side, while Gillespie appears on the right with a trumpet. This famous painting was a clear tribute to Jazz music. The panel work is full of visual punctuations and symbols. Art historian Robert Thompson describes the slashes of white paint across the surfaces with this words: “form their own beat, one, two, one-two-three. This is the clave beat, main artery of Afro-Cuban music.” Just like jam sessions, the painting has emerging and fading rhythms, and jazz improvisation.

Museum collections

Untitled (1982)
Untitled (1982), by Jean-Michel Basquiat

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Troubles with fame and drug addiction unfortunately led the artist to the tragic death caused by heroin overdose. Jean-Michel Basquiat died on August 12, 1988 in New York. From October 1992 to February 1993 The Whitney Museum of American Art held the artist’s first retrospective. In 2017 Yusaku Maezawa the Japanese billionaire bought the artist’s “Untitled” at Sotheby’s for $110.5 million. This acquisition set a record for the highest price ever paid for an American artist’s work. Nowadays Basquiat’s works are held in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and also in a private collections in Miami.

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