Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat is the artist who made the great leap from graffiti to major art galleries. He was born to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother, a heritage which proved to be one of the major influences in his artwork. The oldest of three children, he was considered to be very bright and gifted. At four, he learned to read and write, and at eleven, he was speaking Spanish, English, and French fluently. At his very young age, he was already showing signs of a great talent, which was immediately recognized and encouraged by his mother and teachers. His mother brought him on several occasions to Manhattan to see artwork by prominent artists and eventually enrolled him in the Brooklyn Museum of Art as a junior member.

The artist’s childhood wasn’t a glorious one as he had his own share of grief and traumatic experiences. He was hit by a car at the age of eight and spent a month in the hospital recovering. While in the hospital, something very positive happened that was to influence his artwork immensely. His mother brought him the “Grey’s Anatomy,” a book which kept him quite busy during his recovery period and which was to have a great influence in his own work as an artist. After his recovery, his parents separated, and the young Jean-Michel Basquiat saw his mother move from one mental institution to another. Jean-Michel Basquiat and his sisters were raised in Brooklyn by their father and later moved to Puerto Rico in 1975. Jean-Michel Basquiat tried to run away from home, but was immediately picked up by the police. At 15, he successfully ran away from home and slept on benches in the park.

The young artist never received any formal education on painting. He attended the culture centered progressive City as School program. It was here he met Al Diaz and Shannon Dawson who shared his interest in comics and graffiti. He also developed the character tag SAMO when he was in high school. Jean-Michel Basquiat never completed high school. He developed his artwork as a street painter who, with other friends, when along the streets tagging images with poetic texts that were sarcastic, political, or humorous.

He started his career as a painter on sheets of paper his father brought home, creating paintings that feature images of angular people, lone words, symbols, and phrases. Critics and art historians love his work for its composition, balance between control and spontaneity, and colour. At his early 20s, his work was appraised in leading Soho galleries, including the Mary Boone Gallery and the Annina Nosei Gallery. His work was exhibited in prominent art galleries from Soho to Tokyo, Paris, and Dusseldorf, becoming one of the most sought after art for sale. More than two decades later, his works sold between $25,000 and $50,000. His paintings are included in the collections of the AMuseum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The artist died of an overdose of heroin, but his contribution to modern art cannot be underestimated. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work continues to influence many artists, especially those who love comics and graffiti.

Gavin Mann

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