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Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat


You may not immediately recognize Jean-Michel Basquiat, but you have undoubtedly seen his art. His paintings are iconic representations of street art that have permeated pop culture. Basquiat overcame a troubled childhood to become one of the most influential artists of his generation. His Rise from a homeless teenage graffiti artist to an acclaimed contemporary painter who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Andy Warhol is a story of talent, passion, and perseverance against all odds. Basquiat's life was brief, but his impact on modern art is timeless. His striking, emotionally raw paintings blended street art with many influences, from abstract expressionism to pop art. They provide a glimpse into a brilliant mind that burns with a creative intensity. Though decades have passed since his death, Basquiat's memory lives on in his work. His paintings have become cultural touchpoints, inspiring new generations of artists and art lovers. Basquiat gave the world a glimpse into what might have been - had his flame not been extinguished too soon. Though his life was fleeting, Jean-Michel Basquiat's art has secured his status as an icon of 20th-century art.

More Facts

Name: Jean-Michel

Surname: Basquiat

Lives & Works:

Lives in State:

Date of Birth:

Date of Death: 1988


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Jean-Michel Basquiat BIOGRAPH

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Image Credit: Art News

Early Life and Artistic Beginnings

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York. His mother was Puerto Rican, and his father was Haitian. Basquiat grew up in a middle-class family and attended exclusive private schools as a child.

As a teenager, Basquiat became fascinated with art and street life. He dropped out of high school at 15 and lived on the streets, where he began developing his signature artistic style. Basquiat started spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, signing them with the monikerSAMO.” His graffiti gained notoriety and received praise from critics. This early success and fame in the New York art scene kickstarted Basquiat’s painting career.

In 1978, Basquiat participated in a group show and was “discovered” by art dealers. His paintings incorporated text and images in a primitive style. His works depicted political and social commentary, often referencing black history and his Afro-Caribbean heritage. Basquiat’s paintings were emotional, intense, and evocative. His fame increased in the 1980s, enhanced by his friendships with established artists like Andy Warhol.

What Happened to Basquiat?

Basquiat struggled with drug addiction for much of his life despite his success. Tragically, he died of a heroin overdose in 1988 at 27 years old. Though his life was cut short, Basquiat produced over 1,000 paintings and drawings that provided insight into his brilliant and complex mind. His powerful and poignant works cemented his status as one of the 20th century’s most influential artists. Basquiat’s life and paintings have enduring influence and inspire new generations of artists.

What is Jean-Michel Basquiat known for?

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Image Credit: My Art Broker

Jean-Michel Basquiat left behind an indelible mark on the art world that continues to inspire and challenge viewers. His pioneering neo-expressionist style incorporated highly personal iconography and investigated cultural themes of Black identity and social injustice. Though his life was cut tragically short, Basquiat’s impact as an innovator in the Neo-Expressionism movement cemented his status as a visionary artist far ahead of his time.

Career highlights

Image Credit: Christies

Basquiat’s Rise in the 1980s New York Art Scene

As an innovative street artist in 1980s New York City, Jean-Michel Basquiat gained fame for his enigmatic paintings featuring text and images. 

In the early 1980s, Basquiat began showing his work in informal exhibitions in clubs and on the street. He came to the attention of many influential members of the art world. His work was characterized by a raw, gritty street style incorporating graffiti, text, and collage elements in expressive compositions. Basquiat referenced African-American musical and athletic heroes in his art.

Basquiat’s fame increased, aided by his association with pop artists Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. In 1985, Basquiat and Warhol collaborated on a series of paintings. This collaboration brought Basquiat further into the mainstream and established him as a neo-expressionist artist. His works began selling for large sums, bringing him wealth and status. Basquiat dated pop singer Madonna and appeared on The New York Times Magazine cover in 1985 at the age of 24.

Though his career was brief, Jean-Michel Basquiat produced an impressive body of work that provided insight into the urban culture of 1980s New York and established him as a pioneering contemporary artist. His expressive and enigmatic paintings are recognized today as essential to 20th-century art.

Signature Style: Influences and Techniques

Various sources, including graffiti art, abstract expressionism, and African tribal art, influenced Jean-Michel Basquiat’s signature style. His paintings incorporated text and images, often depicting African and African-American subjects and addressing themes of racism and social injustice.

Graffiti Influence

Basquiat began his career as a New York street artist in the late 1970s, painting graffiti under the pseudonym “SAMO.” His early graffiti art incorporated text and simple images, and this style continued to influence his paintings, which often featured words, phrases, and fragments of text. His painting technique was also loose and expressive, resembling the improvisational nature of graffiti.

Abstract Expressionism

Basquiat was influenced by the abstract expressionist movement and admired artists like Jackson Pollock. His paintings featured gestural brushstrokes, improvisation, and an emphasis on process over subject matter. However, unlike the abstract expressionists, Basquiat’s paintings also incorporated recognizable figures and objects. His style fused abstraction and representation.

African Art

Basquiat collected and was strongly influenced by African tribal art. His paintings featured mask-like faces, tribal imagery, and African and Aztec art references. He appropriated and reinterpreted these influences to address black identity and experience themes. His paintings’ crude, expressive quality also resembled the rawness of certain African art forms.

Jean-Michel Basquiat List of Work

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Image Credit: The Globe Mall

Major Artworks






God,  Law


Hollywood Africans


In Italian 


Riding With Death

The New Censors Exhibition

In 1983, Basquiat participated in a group show called “The New Censors” at the Fun Gallery in New York. The exhibit explored themes of censorship and featured controversial works by avant-garde artists. Basquiat’s contributions included “Hollywood Africans” and “Natchez,” which incorporated provocative imagery and text.


Basquiat collaborated with other prominent artists of the era, including Andy Warhol and Francesco Clemente. In 1984, Basquiat and Warhol had a joint exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. They had become friends and appreciated each other’s rebellious and vibrant style. The show was a success and helped bring more mainstream street art attention.

Basquiat also collaborated with Clemente on several paintings in the 1980s, combining their signature styles. Clemente introduced dreamy, symbolic imagery, while Basquiat added a gritty, frenetic street art aesthetic. Critics received these joint works well, and they are now prized in significant museum collections.

Through high-profile shows and collaborations with other influential artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat cemented his status in the art world before his untimely death. His striking and evocative paintings introduced urban street culture into the mainstream and established him as a pioneer of the Neo-Expressionism movement.

What Style of Art is Basquiat?

  • Contemporary Art

  • Neo-Expressionism

  • Primitivism

Legacy as a Pioneer in Neo-Expressionism

Basquiat burst onto the art scene as a rebellious street artist in the late 1970s. His raw, emotionally charged paintings featured cryptic symbols, words, and figures, providing social commentary on the human experience. Basquiat’s oeuvre confronted issues around racism and capitalism that remain painfully relevant today. His frenetic and highly coded painting style was unprecedented, fusing elements of street art, pop art, and primitivism with a punk DIY esthetic.

The artist collaborated with Andy Warhol in the 1980s, bringing Neo-Expressionism into the mainstream. Their joint paintings seamlessly blended Basquiat’s wild street-infused style with Warhol’s pop art. This unlikely partnership highlighted Basquiat’s ascent in the art world and recognition as a pioneer in the Neo-Expressionist movement.

Though his life and career were cut short at just 27 years of age, Basquiat produced over 1,000 works of art that provide a glimpse into his enigmatic mind and uncanny gift for social critique. His visceral paintings uncovered truths about society that we still grapple with today. Basquiat’s inimitable style and probing of controversial themes established him as an innovator who shaped the trajectory of contemporary art. His impact on Neo-Expressionism and his status as a visionary artist will continue for generations.

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