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Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled, 1981

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Born in 1960, American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat lived an all too short life, but during that time his star burned bright, and his influence on the art world continues to this day. Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, and the influence of the city is clearly evident from his earliest works to the artistic expressions that preceded his untimely death.


Nicknamed SAMO, Jean-Michel Basquiat showed a clear talent for art even during his childhood in Brooklyn. Best known for his Neo-Expressionist style and his friendship with fellow artist Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat showed clear talent, and a strong affinity for the art and artists that helped make his native New York City such a special place to grow up.


While sometimes pigeonholed as a black artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat quickly outgrew that overused phraseology to make his mark on the art world as a whole. In fact, Jean-Michel Basquiat often remarked that he was not a black artist - merely an artist.


Like many fellow New York City artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat first rose to prominence through his street art, particularly his graffiti. Working under the street name SAMO, Jean-Michel Basquiat quickly outgrew that primitive art form and recognized the enormous commercial possibilities that accompanied graffiti and other forms of street art.


Indeed, Jean-Michel Basquiat, still under his SAMO moniker, soon began selling postcards and sweatshirts featuring the art of the streets. This was even before his painting career really took off, and further proof of not only his artistic acumen but his business savvy.


By the mid-1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat was already collaborating with Andy Warhol, who was then at the top of his game and the darling of the art world. That collaboration culminated in a show featuring the work of the two artists.


The early years of Jean-Michel Basquiat helped to form his personality and ultimately fuel his career. Of particular influence was his multicultural heritage -- Jean-Michel Basquiat's father was born in Haiti and his mother was Puerto Rican. This divergent cultural heritage, combined with his life in multicultural New York City, helped to create the artistic sensibilities Jean-Michel Basquiat would soon become known for.


Like many artists of his generation and upbringing, Jean-Michel Basquiat did not have the privilege of a formal artistic education. Instead, Jean-Michel Basquiat was completely self taught, and his teaching started at an early age.


Jean-Michel Basquiat began to draw early in life, using paper his accountant father brought home from the office. Both of his parents were very encouraging, and his mother nurtured her son's many talents while his father supplied the raw materials.


By the late 1970s, Jean-Michel Basquiat was already drawing admiring attention for his graffiti art. During those early years, the artist dubbed SAMO often tagged subway trains with his street art, often in the company of a close friend.


His street art often took the forms of cryptic phrases, drawing the attention of all who saw them. By 1977, Jean-Michel Basquiat was ready for a more formal introduction to the art world, dropping out of school just shy of his expected graduation date.


Without a high school degree, Jean-Michel Basquiat earned money by selling the sweatshirts and postcards he created. These wearable and mailable works of art featured SAMO's famous graffiti phrases, and they helped to boost his career enormously.


Those early days were successful but still filled with struggle, but by 1980 Jean-Michel Basquiat had begun to break through in a big way. One of his earliest breaks came when his work received critical acclaim for their unique combination of words and symbols, animals and stick figures. Pretty soon, Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings were appearing everywhere, and they were quickly snapped up by forward-looking art collectors. Even though he was still a young artist, some of Jean-Michel Basquiat's were already bringing as much as $50,000 each.


The rise of Jean-Michel Basquiat through the ranks of the art world coincided with the rise of a new form of artistic expression. Dubbed Neo-Expressionism, this movement gave rise to some of the most exciting work in decades, and helped to make the careers of a generation of emerging artists.


While his partnership with Andy Warhol was his most notable collaboration, Jean-Michel Basquiat continued to create work on his own as well. He traveled to Africa in 1986, creating a show in Ivory Coast. In the same year, Jean-Michel Basquiat also showed his paintings in Hanover, Germany, taking the prestigious Kestner-Gesellschaft Gallery by storm.


Even while he was enjoying enormous commercial success and strong critical acclaim, Jean-Michel Basquiat continued to suffer from a number of personal problems. Of special concern to his friends was Jean-Michel Basquiat's increasing drug use, and in 1988 those addictions would take his life. Jean-Michel Basquiat died an untimely heroin overdose death in 1988, leaving behind a life and a legacy that has only continued to grow in his absence.

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