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A cheat sheet on Jean Michel Basquiat
Here’s everything you need to know about Basquiat
Art Stuff 01 Nov 2022

 13 most interesting facts you need to know

Jean-Michel Basquiat took over the art scene of the 1980s in New York after separating himself from the downtown graffiti style and morphing into a painter. His short life was full of contradictions, but his love for art and childlike freedom was constant. He died when he was twenty-seven and is now considered a pioneer of American modern art. Courageous, creative, and driven, here’s everything you need to know about Basquiat and why he achieved an unprecedented level of celebrity at a young age:

1. You may be familiar with Basquiat or his paintings, but you don’t know how to pronounce his name. Just so you know, it’s Ba-skee-aa.

2. Born in 1960 in Brooklyn in a multicultural middle-class family, Basquiat was the son of a Haitian descent mother who encouraged his love for the arts, and a strict Puerto Rican father. At home, the artist was raised speaking Spanish, French, and English.

3. As a child, Basquiat became a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum, and he remarked that he wanted to be a cartoonist.

4. In 1968, at the age of eight, Basquiat was run over by a car when he was playing on Brooklyn Street. He broke his arm and suffered internal injuries and was hospitalized for a long time. While recovering, his mother brought him a copy of the famous medical textbook Gray’s Anatomy, which made a lasting impression on the young artist and influenced his work, later in life.

5. His youth was troubled by the fact that his parents separated when he was just seven years old. But his life took a major turn at the age of ten when his mother was diagnosed as mentally ill and sent to a facility. He left to live with his father and sisters in Puerto Rico but came back to New York two years later.

6. He failed conventional education and, when he was seventeen, his father threw him out. He was able to survive by crashing into friends’ homes and selling sweatshirts and postcards marked with his drawings. One day, Andy Warhol bought one of his cards, which later became a lifelong friend, mentor, and collaborator.

7. He started working as a graffiti artist and used the nickname SAMO (Same Old Sh*t) with friend and collaborator Al Diaz. He strategically placed his art near galleries and museums, attracting public attention. After Diaz and Basquiat stopped working together due to creative differences, his graffiti started to appear with SAMO IS DEAD, and it was then that Basquiat’s solo career took off.

8. He was featured in various art exhibitions, but he gained momentum with his first, which opened in June of 1980 on Seventh Avenue. He became friends with renowned artists like Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel, and his work began to sell quickly.

9. At the age of twenty-one, Basquiat was the youngest participant in Kassel’s Documenta VII and the first artist to have African-American and Caribbean roots.

10. In 1982 Basquiat dated Madonna and in the same year, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lived in Larry Gagosian’s home for a year, as he prepared for an upcoming solo show at the gallery’s West Hollywood location.

11. His ascension coincided with the emergence of a new artistic movement, neo-expressionism, for which he became a symbol, with artists like Julian Schnabel and Susan Rothenberg.

12. When he climbed the social ladder, Basquiat became paranoid and isolated himself from the world, relying more and more on drugs to cope, in particular after the death of his close friend, Andy Warhol.

13. He died of a drug overdose on August 12, 1988, in his Great Jones Street studio in New York City. Despite a short artistic career, Jean-Michel Basquiat has left behind a legacy and a major impact on the art world.

Text by Maria Nitulescu

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