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Who is Jean-Michel Basquiat and What is He Famous For ?

November 21, 2021 8 min read

Who is Jean-Michel Basquiat and What is He Famous For ? - The Trendy Art

Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the pioneers of contemporary art by the importance and abundance of his work. Basquiat was an avant-garde artist who knew how to break down the banalities in favor of art. 

Graffiti artist with a striking and original style, then virtuoso painter capable of conveying a spontaneous, childlike and at the same time frighteningly serious message, his work points to a very particular nervousness and violence, characteristics very representative of the character he was.

A look at one of the pillars of art and his contribution already well recognized in history.

Jean Michel Basquiat 

Basquiat in his early years as an artist

Born to a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father in 1960, Basquiat showed a keen interest in art from an early age. His mother, attracted to the art world, frequently took him to New York museums to further develop his talent and interest.


Passionate about drawing

The young Basquiat was passionate about drawing. There are many notebooks filled with sketches based on the illustrations in the dictionary. He continued to draw throughout his childhood, illustrating children's books at school, and in his spare time, executing drawings inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's films, comic books or cars. The graffiti artist is also an avid reader. He reads books in three different languages: English, French and Spanish.

Around the age of seven, he was forced to be hospitalized following a car accident.

To make his stay more positive, his mother gave him an anatomy book called "Gray's anatomy". This was a major influence for Basquiat who used it as inspiration for the first part of his work a few years later.


From Puerto Rico to New York

For two years, from 1974 to 1976, the Basquiat family lived in Puerto Rico for professional reasons. Jean-Michel Basquiat began his adolescence there in a rocky fashion. Back in New York in 1976, he was enrolled in a school for gifted young people and met a character who would become his great friend and fellow graffiti artist, Al Diaz.

Basquiat Life


From drawing to painting

In 1976, Basquiat and Diaz began spray painting in Manhattan. Their works have two particular characteristics, a certain poetry and strange symbols. The latter gradually became typical of them.


Basquiat discovers graffiti

In 1977, Basquiat started to sign his graffiti SAMO (or same old shit), literally meaning "same old shit" or more properly said "nothing new".


History of graffiti

Graffiti, long neglected on all sides, now occupies an important place in modern art. It has always existed, over the millennia, and in different forms. Often an indicator of the culture and education of an ancient society, sometimes literally repressed, it is nevertheless alive and vibrant. 

Urban graffiti appeared with wars or during revolutions (World War II, Algerian War, Berlin Wall, Northern Ireland, etc.). It was often intended as a cry of protest, a way of expressing anger or a way of showing one's colors for people who often had no right to speak. 

Graffiti eventually crossed the oceans to the United States in the 1960s.


Graffiti in the New York subway

At this time, the graffiti "culture" is becoming more and more liberated. Formed by groups of individuals coming together for various commonalities (ethnic origins, political opinions, social status, etc.), the art was spreading. It is particularly practiced in the New York subway, where some trains are practically saturated with colors, patterns, quotes or other.


Graffiti all over North America

Towards the second half of the 1970s, graffiti began to be severely punished in the New York subway. Graffiti began to appear on the walls of the most disadvantaged districts as well as in various American cities (Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, etc.) and then made a comeback in Europe. It was also during this period that the artistic community became interested in the subject. 

A multitude of famous graffiti artists, including Basquiat, painted canvases that they then exhibited in art galleries. These nomadic artists have now acquired respect and notoriety from the milieu, but also from the art world in general, for the works, often majestic, that they have created.


The Graffiti Artist

Those types of artists, also known as graffiti artists or graffiti writers use various techniques and inspirations to make their art as vibrant as possible. Among these, stencils, aerosols and poetry are only a few examples of the versatility of the current.

Jean Michel Basquiat Art


The periods of Basquiat's life


Basquiat's career can be divided into three specific and particularly significant periods.

1980 to 1982

During the first period, between 1980 and 1982, the artist demonstrated his obsession with the death of man by painting, mostly on canvas, representations of skeletal silhouettes as well as faces resembling masks.

He also paints inspired by what he sees in the street: children, cars, graffiti, poverty, etc. In 1982, he was invited to participate in an exhibition with several other emerging artists such as Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente and David Salle. In 1996, Schnabel directed a feature-length biographical film entitled Basquiat, in honor of his friend. 

1982 to 1985

From 1982 to 1985, the artist reveals his interest in his black identity and history by representing historical or contemporary black figures as well as the events that followed. 

His work consists mainly of paintings on multiple panels, full of overlapping elements, ranging from writing to collage, for example. 

1986 to 1988

The third and final period spans two years: from 1986 to 1988, the year of his death. Basquiat painted using techniques, styles and elements never before used in his work. The influence of heroin, on which he depended, was very palpable.

In February 1987, the death of Andy Warhol shook Basquiat's heart and soul, already in a very bad state following his heroin abuse. The young man is no longer the same following these events. His feeling of being misunderstood became more inked in his daily life: only Warhol knew how to touch him.

The artist died on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27, of a heroin overdose.

Jean Michel Basquiat Artwork Influence


The impact of Basquiat's work


Basquiat had a major impact on art. While his body of work is captivating, the last period of his life was particularly significant to many.

Between 1986 and 1988, the year of his death, the artist used unusual and previously unused creative methods in his work, which resulted in maximizing his influence. Thus, artists such as Marc Gonzales, Kelly D. Williams or Raymond Morris drank from his techniques, a very visible influence in their work.

The hybrid side of his art, the result of a mixture of techniques such as painting, graffiti and collages for example, makes other artists want to constantly make their works more original and striking, a direct result of the prodigy's contribution.

Although Basquiat admits to having drawn his influence from the work of Dali, Picasso, Goya and Warhol, his work is in no way inferior to that of his predecessors, and he himself has become one of the most fascinating and intriguing figures in the history of art, and will always continue to be a source of inspiration for future artists.

Basquiat Artwork 

Meeting with Andy Warhol

1978 marks the emancipation of the artist. He leaves the family nest and decides to live alone. He earns his living by selling T-shirts and postcards on the street.

At this time, he began to frequent various clubs, including Club 57 and the Mudd Club, where he met the greats of the moment (Bowie, Madonna, Warhol, etc.). It was during this period that he sold one of his postcards to Andy Warhol, which was a defining moment in his life.


Basquiat and Warhol

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat were officially introduced to each other in the fall of 1982 by Bruno Bischofberger, a Swiss art dealer. Their meeting proved to be fruitful as it resulted in a solid friendship, but also, several professional collaborations that lasted until Warhol's death in 1987.

Both artists have their own style and are legends in their art, giving their collaborations success and originality, two elements much sought after by the artistic community.

Here are some of the works of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat :

- Monster Meat

- Arm and Hammer

- Alba’s Breakfast

- General Electric

Jean Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol


Biography on the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat


The life of Jean-Michel Basquiat was for several sources of influence. Some have been inspired by his work, others by his life, but one thing is certain, his career leaves no one indifferent.

Biographical film

In 1996, director Julian Schnabel wrote and produced this biographical film simply entitled: Basquiat. The feature film stars a cast of quality actors, perfectly representing the artist's generation. Among them, we find an extremely striking Jeffrey Wright playing the title role. Wright is very convincing, as usual, given the weight of the subject.

We also find in the credits several big names: David Bowie who plays a very striking Andy Warhol in the clothes and wigs of the king of Pop Art, Benicio Del Toro playing Benny Dalmau and Gary Oldman as Milo. Multiple names are added to the already impressive list, which makes this film very close to the reality experienced by Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

The feature film tells the story of the artist's meteoric rise.


Basquiat's life as seen by Julian Schnabel

In 1981, the artist was an illustrious 19 year old unknown who made graffiti. Quickly, after his discovery by Andy Warhol, he became one of the most coveted and glamorous artists in the world. His exhibitions were highly attended and awaited by all, art galleries snatched him up, and collectors were ready to pay large sums of money for his paintings.

In spite of all his success, the young man suffers from an unbearable loneliness, while undergoing the incomprehension of his peers and particularly of his family. He plunged into drug hell and died prematurely of a heroin overdose at the age of 27, in 1988. 

Julian Schnabel is a painter, but also a personal friend of Basquiat and he will always be part of the constellation gravitating around the latter.

For him, it was of utmost importance to make his first film a true, authentic story in memory of his friend. The film does not therefore shed any light on who Jean-Michel Basquiat really and deeply was. Nor does it provide answers to the art world about death and drug use. It only shows a Basquiat, as he was.

This feature film is therefore a dialogue between friends, a way to immortalize in an honest way the artist who transcended art, like a shooting star.


Auction of Basquiat Art

A Basquiat artwork sold for $14 million at an auction in New York. The drummer of the famous rock band Metallica, Lars Ulrich, got his hands on a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat for $14 million in an auction in New York.

Christie's reported that the bid for "Untitled (Boxer)" exceeded the pre-sale estimate by more than $12 million. The painting, painted in 1982, shows a broad-shouldered boxer with his fists in the air in a graffiti style.

The current auction record for a Basquiat is $14.6 million for "Untitled" which sold at Sotheby's last year. Francis Bacon's "Study for Self-Portrait" did not sell. According to Christie's estimates, it should have sold for about $40 million.

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