Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist. He began as an obscure graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s and evolved into an acclaimed Neo-expressionist and Primitivist painter by the 1980s. Throughout his career Basquiat focused on "suggestive dichotomies," such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. Basquiat's art utilized a synergy of appropriation, poetry, drawing and painting, which married text and image, abstraction and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father was from Haiti, and his mother, from Afro-Puerto Rican descent. His mother instilled a love for art in her young son by taking him to art museums. Basquiat was a precocious child, his teachers noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son's artistic talent. As a child he could fluently speak, read and write French, Spanish, and English. When he was 11, his mother was committed to a mental institution and thereafter spent time in and out of institutions. At 15, Basquiat ran away from home. He slept on park benches in Washington Square Park, and was arrested and returned to the care of his father within a week. Basquiat dropped out of Edward R. Murrow High School in the tenth grade. His father banished him from the household and Basquiat stayed with friends in Brooklyn. He supported himself by selling T-shirts and homemade post cards.

In 1976, Basquiat and friend Al Diaz began spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO until Basquiat & Diaz ended their friendship, The SAMO project ended with the epitaph "SAMO IS DEAD," inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in 1979. That same year, Basquiat appeared on the live public-access television cable TV show. He made regular appearances on the show over the next few years. Basquiat formed the noise rock band Test Pattern - which was later renamed Gray. Gray also consisted of Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Nick Taylor, Wayne Clifford and Vincent Gallo.

In 1980, Basquiat starred in O'Brien's independent film Downtown 81, originally titled New York Beat. That same year, Basquiat met Andy Warhol. Basquiat presented to Warhol samples of his work, and Warhol was stunned by Basquiat's genius and allure. The men later collaborated. In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda. In 1981, Rene Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world. From November 1982, Basquiat worked from the ground-floor display and studio space Larry Gagosian had built below his Venice home and commenced a series of paintings for a 1983 show. During this time he took considerable interest in the work of Robert Rauschenberg, visiting him on several occasions and finding inspiration in the accomplishments of the painter. In 1982, Basquiat also worked briefly with musician and artist David Bowie and other music projects.

At the suggestion of Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger, Warhol and Basquiat worked on a series of collaborative paintings between 1983 and 1985. In the case of Olympic Rings (1985), Warhol made several variations of the Olympic five-ring symbol, rendered in the original primary colors. Basquiat responded to the abstract, stylized logos with his oppositional graffiti style. The conjunction of various media is an integral element of Basquiat's art. His paintings are typically covered with text and codes of all kinds: words, letters, numerals, pictograms, logos, map symbols, diagrams and more.

By 1986, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei gallery, and was showing in the famous Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10, 1985, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist". He was a successful artist in this period, but his growing heroin addiction began to interfere with his personal relationships. When Andy Warhol died in 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated. Despite an attempt at sobriety during a trip to Maui, Hawaii, Basquiat died on August 12, 1988, of a heroin overdose at his art studio. He was 27.

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