Jean-Michel Basquiat was an influential American artist who achieved fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s, credited with bringing graffiti to the fine art world of painting alongside Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. Though Basquiat never finished high school, he grew up visiting the Brooklyn Museum of Art and took an interest in art from a young age. His early work consisted of tagging in downtown New York with his friend Al Diaz under the pseudonym SAMO©, and Basquiat later went on to create numerous collaborations with Pop Art icon Andy Warhol.
So, you want those graffiti artists arrested and stopped?
Basquiat is considered part of the Neo-Expressionist movement alongside Julian Schnabel andDavid Salle, with his politicized canvases blending African imagery and symbolism with the movement’s characteristic gestural marks and bright patches of color. Born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, NY, Basquiat spent his life working in New York until his death from a drug overdose on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27.
Jawbone of an Ass, 1982
The Whitney Museum of American Art held the first retrospective of his work from October 1992 to February 1993, and in 2016 his large canvas Untitled (1982) broke auction records with a final price of $57.3 million.
Basquiat’s legendary curriculum vitae evokes something of his existential experience: a Haitian– Puerto Rican black kid living on the streets of New York who tags walls and later starts making paint- ings that get shown and sold all over the world by the vulture dealers; a kid who collaborates with Andy Warhol, painting in a daring and very pure way on the same canvases; a kid who over a decade
produces thousands of images and then dies of a heroin overdose. This story and the many photos taken of him conjure up something of what Bas- quiat’s life was like, but they reveal little about the secret of his art.
Normally when women or men want to contest the lies they are living among and under, they put forward as counterassertions the truths that are being hidden. James Baldwin and Angela Davis are examples from an earlier period, but both of them, being black, fought against some of the same lies.
Basquiat chose a different strategy. He sensed that hidden truths cannot be described in any of the languages commonly employed for the promo- tion of lies; he saw every official language as a code for conveying false messages. His strategy as a painter was to discredit and split open such codes and to let in some vibrant, invisible, clandestine truths—like a saboteur. His ploy as a painter was to spell out the world in a language that is delib- erately broken—ontologically broken.