A Tribute to an Art World Icon: BASQUIAT 👑 (Black Month History Special)

On February, we celebrate black month history! And it’s important to the set the spotlight on the recognized African American artist Jean Michel Basquiat. A talented force, an icon... - and also an interesting man loved by many!

During his lifetime he connected with many other artists, including Andy Warhol and Madonna to name a few. But most importantly, proved himself to be a great artist before dying at the young age of 27. 

1.Scrubhiker (USCdyer)

Born in Brooklyn in 1960. The artist showed great talent in the arts from a young age, and impulsed by his mother, he started to paint and draw. In his teenage years he leaves his home and sets forth on his adventure into “Lower Manhattan '' where his art empire would unfold! 

During this time the artist did what every artist eventually has to do to survive and fight for their dream, and takes a multitude of different jobs to support himself. By the late 70’s he, along with the artist Al Dias, he started to paint graffiti art around lower manhattan, this art is known as “SAMO” which revolved around communicating an anti-establishment, anti-religion, and anti-politics message. - becoming TOTALLY an Anti-Man! 

When the artist team decides to separate due to a disagreement, Basquiat spreads this news by plastering the message "SAMO is DEAD" around different art galleries in SoHo. After this the artist starts to frequent the Manhattan night scene, going to different clubs, especially “Club 54”, where he begins to be recognized as part of the “baby crowd” along with musicians and artists like: Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf y Ann Magnusson. Thanks to being part of this electric night scene the artist was able to gain more exposure and show his art in more galleries. 

2.Foto by Yann Caradec

In 1980 the artist received even more recognition thanks to being a part of the famous exhibition “Times Square Show '', after that the artist had his first solo exhibition in the Anniana Nosei Gallery in SoHo. 

1982 was a big year for the recognized artist, he was the youngest artist to be included in the “Docuementa” (a prestigious contemporary art exposition). During this period the artist was able to see the most artistic growth, creating over 200 different pieces, recognized for his distinctive style in which he would explore dichotomies like: richness vs poorness, integration vs segregation, and many more.

Basquiat loved using social commentary and would incorporate his point of view and voice into each piece he created, trying to show in each one an important side of our society and the afro-american experience.

In his career the artist developed different “motifs” or recurring figures in his art, which were very centered in human anatomy,  and of course the very famous CROWN, present in a huge number of his paintings! - as well as modern day artists like VIII. 

Original by VIII. For more information click HERE. 

The painting “Flexible” is a great example of motifs which become recurring for the artist, this great piece includes two of his biggest motifs: the crown and the skull. In this painting we can appreciate an emaciated figure looking out at the viewer, with his long extended limbs he created a sort of encapsulation. This figure takes inspiration from traditional West African art.  

3.Fineartmultiple Jean-Michel Basquiat Flexible, 1984 Screenprint on paper

During the start of the 80’s Basquiat met his friend, and collaborator ANDY WARHOL. Between 1984-1986 the partners created various pieces in collaboration, like for example Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper), sadly these collaborations were not well received by the public, or the critics, this reception caused a falling out between the artists. 

4.Foto by Jim Watkins Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper)

Despite having a great artistic talent, sadly the life of the artist was not a long one due to his relationship with drugs. Basquiat saw himself submitted to a great pressure to maintain his ascension to the top of the artistic world, and it is reported by many of his friends that it was this same pressure that drove the artist to create a dependency to drugs, specifically cocaine and heroin. In 1988 Basquiat was found in his NY apartment, dead due to an overdose of heroin. 


Years after his tragic death his presence is still strong! His art inspires many of us, including the recognized artist, Banksy who in 2017 created two works inspired by this artistic genius's work. 

In his short life the artist was able to have a great, lasting impact on the art scene, and left a mark that can be felt to this day.

1.Scrubhiker (USCdyer)Jean-Michel Basquiat (CC BY 2.0)
2.Yann Caradec. Extrait de Grillo, 1984, Jean-Michel Basquiat. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
3.Fineartmultiple Jean-Michel Basquiat Flexible, 1984 Screenprint on paper https://fineartmultiple.com/jean-michel-basquiat-flexible-11285/
4.Jim Watkins, Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper) https://itiablog.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/this-is-my-body-broken-for-you/
The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat (2020). About the Artist. Retreaved from: https://www.basquiat.com/about/#chronology
The Broad (2022). Jean-Michel Basquiat. Retreaved from: https://www.thebroad.org/art/jean-michel-basquiat

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