Who is Jean Basquiat

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York. He first attracted attention for his graffiti under the name "SAMO" in New York City. He sold sweatshirts and postcards featuring his artwork on the streets before his painting career took off. ... Basquiat died on August 12, 1988, in New York City

Death and Legacy

In his late twenties, Basquiat may have been at the pinnacle of the art world but his personal life was in tatters. He was addicted to heroin, and toward the end of his life, cut himself off from society. After making an unsuccessful attempt to stop abusing heroin by taking a trip to Maui, Hawaii, he returned to New York, where he overdosed at age 27 in the Great Jones Street studio he rented from the Warhol estate on August 12, 1988. Basquiat's death garnered him a spot in the dubious "27 Club," whose other inductees include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and later, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, all of whom died at the age of 27.

“The '80s, for better or for worse, were his decade,” wrote Newsday scribe Karin Lipson in 1993, summing up his rise to fame. “His canvases, with their masklike, slyly ‘primitive’ images and scribbled words and phrases, were found in the most fashionable collections. He frequented the downtown club scene and the uptown restaurants, wearing Armani and dreadlocks. He made gobs of money . . . Friends and acquaintances knew the downside, though: his stormy dealings with art dealers; his extravagant ways; his anguish over the death of friend and sometime-collaborator Warhol (who died in 1987), and his repeated descents into drug addiction.”

Eighteen years after his death, the biopic “Basquiat,” starring Jeffrey Wright and Benicio del Toro, exposed a new generation to the street artist’s work. Julian Schnabel, who emerged as an artist at the same time as Basquiat, directed the film. In addition to the Schnabel’s biopic, Basquiat was the subject of the Tamra Davis' documentary, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” (2010).

BBC News reports that Basquiat's body of work encompasses approximately 1,000 paintings and 2,000 drawings in total. Collections of Basquiat’s work have been exhibited in several museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art(1992), the Brooklyn Museum (2005), the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2015) in Spain, the Museum of Culture in Italy (2016) and the Barbican Centre in the United Kingdom (2017).

While Basquiat and his father had their differences, Gérard Basquiat has been credited with maintaining the integrity of his son's work as well as enhancing its value. (The elder Basquiat died in 2013.) And according to DNAInfo: “[Gérard Basquiat]tightly controlled his son’s copyrights, methodically poring over movie scripts, biographies, or gallery show publications that wanted to use his son’s works or images [and] devoted countless hours to stewarding an authentication committee that reviewed submitted pieces of art purporting to be by his son . . . If certified, the piece of art’s value could skyrocket. Those deemed phonies became worthless.”

By the time Basquiat reached his twenties, his artwork was selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Pieces that sold for as much as $50,000 during his lifetime jumped to about $500,000 after his death and continued to escalate. In May 2017, Japanese startup founder Yusaku Maezawa bought Basquiat’s 1982 skull painting “Untitled” for a record-breaking $110.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction. No piece of art by an American, let alone an African American, had ever commanded such a record-breaking price. Basquiat's work and his life continue to inspire creative forces across a wide variety of genres including music, literature, art, clothing design, and more.

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