“I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life”.
Famed for his dynamic paintings, Jean-Michel Basquiat emerged from New York’s underground art scene of the late 1970s to become one of the most internationally renowned artists of the 20th century. By the age of 20, Basquiat had become an established gallery artist and was collaborating with some of the most prominent members of the New York art scene, such as Andy Warhol. Basquiat is known for his vibrant palette and his bold renderings of the human body, exploring themes of politics, race and philosophy. Since his untimely death at the age of 27, Basquiat’s legacy has continued to flourish. The subjects of many, if not all of Basquiat’s works, remain incredibly relevant and still resonate today with a modern audience.
Born in 1960 of Haitian and Puerto-Rican descent, Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He was exposed to art by his mother from a young age and was encouraged by some of his teachers at school to draw. After dropping out of high school and leaving home in 1976, Basquiat would never go on to receive any formal art education.
For many years, the artist barely made a living wage, selling t-shirts and postcards during the day and covering Brooklyn in his bold designs by night. Basquiat, working under the moniker SAMO (Same Old Shit) in tandem with his friend Al Diaz, started to attract attention.
By the 1980s, New York had entered a period of thriving artistic freedom and consequently, Basquiat started to paint and draw with more focused effort, befriending other artists around him. In 1981, Basquiat met Andy Warhol, and they instantly formed a close friendship. The duo would go on to collaborate on several artworks during the mid-1980s, remaining friends until Basquiat’s death.
Basquiat first publicly exhibited in a group show in a vacant Times Square building in June 1980. His works were featured alongside other artistic geniuses of the period such as Keith Haring, Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer. The group exhibition marked a turning point for Basquiat and led to his first solo exhibition in 1982.
Basquiat immediately rose to fame, with critics extolling the artist. Basking in the limelight, Basquiat continued to create artwork for his ever-expanding throng of enthusiasts, and only halted at his untimely passing in 1988, aged just 27.
Although the life of this exceptional artist was cut tragically short, his works can be found in museum collections around the world. From The Broad in Los Angeles to the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, people across the globe continue to admire and revere his work.
In 2017, a Basquiat artwork named 'Untitled' was sold at Sotheby's New York for US$110.5 million, setting a new record at the time for the most expensive artwork created by an American artist to be sold at auction.