Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988)

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Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) was born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother. At an early age, he showed a precocious talent for drawing, and his mother enrolled him as a Junior Member of the Brooklyn Museum when he was six. Basquiat first gained notoriety as a teenage graffiti poet and musician. By 1981, at the age of twenty, he had turned from spraying graffiti on the walls of buildings in Lower Manhattan to selling paintings in SoHo galleries, rapidly becoming one of the most accomplished artists of his generation.

In Italian, 1983. Acrylic, oil paintstick, and marker on canvas mounted on wood supports, two panels. The Stephanie and Peter Brant Foundation, Greenwich, Connecticut

In Italian, 1983. Acrylic, oil paintstick, and marker on canvas mounted on wood supports, two panels. The Stephanie and Peter Brant Foundation, Greenwich, Connecticut

Astute collectors began buying his art, and his gallery shows sold out. Critics noted the originality of his work, its emotional depth, unique iconography, and formal strengths in color, composition, and drawing. By 1985, he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as the epitome of the hot, young artist in a booming market. Tragically, Basquiat began using heroin and died of a drug overdose when he was just twenty-seven years old.

Basquiat was a key figure in the 1980s but also that his artistic accomplishments have significance for twentieth-century art as a whole. Basquiat was the last major painter in an idiom that had begun decades earlier in Europe with the imitation of African art by modern artists such as Picasso and Matisse. Inspired by his own heritage, Basquiat both contributed to and transcended the African-influenced modernist idiom.

Flexible, 1984. Acrylic and oil paintstick on wood. The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Flexible, 1984. Acrylic and oil paintstick on wood. The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

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