Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist who was part of the Neo-Expressionist movement in the 1980s. He first attracted attention in New York City for his graffiti under the name SAMO©.
The duo of SAMO©, which consisted of Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz, wrote enigmatic epigrams and short phrases on the walls of Manhattan. Jean fought against the corrupt political system and racism and focused his art on suggestive dichotomies such as wealth versus poverty and inner versus outer experience. He is best known for his primitive style and for his collaboration with Andy Warhol.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Jean was the second of four children of Matilda Andrades and Gerard Basquiat. His mother was one of the biggest reasons why this young man became an artist. When he was very young, she took him to art museums and made him a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. When Jean was eight years old, he was hit by a car and suffered several injuries. When he was recovering, his mother brought him a book, Gray’s Anatomy, to keep him occupied.
This book was really influential for his later artistic work. Basquiat ran away from home when he was 15 after his mother was committed to a mental institution. After Jean was arrested on the street, he lived with his father, who banished him from home because he dropped out of high school. Basquiat stayed with his friends and in order to eat he sold T-shirts and homemade postcards.
In 1976, Basquiat and his friend Diaz, who previously been part of the New York graffiti scene, developed SAMO© which is pronounced Same-Oh. Their artwork featured messages such as “SAMO as an escape clause”, and “Plush safe he thinks SAMO”. Later, when Basquiat started work on some non-graffiti projects, he killed the tag SAMO by painting “SAMO© IS DEAD”. In only a few years, he became one of the most celebrated and commercially exploited American painters.
Basquiat had his first exhibition in a group with other artists called “The Times Square Show” in New York. Later, he was represented throughout Europe by Bruno Bischofberger.
Basquiat joined the Annina Nosei gallery in SoHo in 1981, and he left it by 1986. The most successful moment in his career was when he appeared on the cover of The New York Times magazine. He started to fall when his friend Andy Warhol died in 1987 and his heroin addiction became more severe.
Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at his studio in Manhattan when was 27 years old. He was buried at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.