Jean-Michel Basquiat

Neo-Expressionist Painter


Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York. He first attracted attention for his graffiti art under the pseudonym "SAMO" in NYC. He sold sweatshirts and postcards displaying his artwork on the streets before his painting career took off. He collaborated with Andy Warhol in the mid-1980s, which resulted in a show of their work. Basquiat died on August 12, 1988, in New York City.

Childhood and Early Life

Basquiat was born to a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father, which led to his exposure to French and Spanish culture. He was fluent in Spanish, French, and English. Basquiat exhibited a talent for art early on, learning to draw and paint. His mother encouraged his artistry, and together they attended exhibitions at museums all around New York.

As an adolescent, Basquiat underwent surgery after being hit by a car. This led to his reading of Gray's Anatomy. The images in this text would one day inspire his graffiti-inscribed canvases.

After the divorce of his parents, Basquiat lived alone with his father, after his mother was seen mentally unfit to car for him. Claiming physical and emotional abuse, Basquiat ran away from home and was adopted into a friend's home. He sporadically attended school after dropping out in September 1978, at age 18.


Basquiat's work is one of the few examples of how an early 1980s American Punk, or graffiti-based and counter-cultural practice could become a fully recognized, critically embraced and popularly celebrated artistic phenomenon, indeed not unlike the rise of American Hip Hop during the same era.

Despite his work's "unstudied" appearance, Basquiat very skillfully and purposefully brought together in his art a host of disparate traditions, practices, and styles to create a unique kind of visual collage, one deriving, in part, from his urban origins, and in another a more distant, African-Caribbean heritage.

Most of Basquiat's works were paintings and prints, but he also did works on paper, such as drawings, sculptures, installation, and photography.


For some critics, Basquiat's swift rise to fame and equally swift and tragic death by drug overdose epitomizes and personifies the overly commercial, hyped up international art scene of the mid 1980s, a cultural phenomenon that for many observers was symptomatic of the largely artificial bubble economy of the era.

Basquiat's work is an example of how American artists of the 1980s could reintroduce the human figure in their work after the wide success of Minimalism and Conceptualism, thus establishing a dialogue with the more distant tradition of 1950s Abstract Expressionism.