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Jean-Michel Basquiat

Artist 288

Jean-Michel Basquiat


Jean-Michel Basquiat (born 1960-1988) was an African-American artist known for his paintings. He was a pop icon, cultural figure, graffiti artist, musician, and neo-expressionist painter. He sadly lost his life to addiction in 1988.

Basquiat’s paintings are largely responsible for the elevation of graffiti artists into the realm of the New York gallery scene back in the 1980s. His spray-painted crowns and scribbled words referenced everything from his Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage, to political issues, pop-culture icons, and Biblical verse.

“If you wanna talk about influence, man, then you've got to realize that influence is not influence,” he said of his process. “It's simply someone's idea going through my new mind.”

The gestural marks and expressive nature of his work reflect his graffiti background. His artist’s tag is the now infamous pseudonym SAMO. This was shorthand for “same old shit” that first drew public attention. Basquiat created “SAMO” with his friend Al Diaz while the pair were in high school and the tag,which often featured the copyright symbol, cropped up on buildings throughout lower Manhattan and Brooklyn between 1977 and 1980.

"It was supposed to be a logo, like Pepsi.” Basquiat later told writer Anthony Haden-Guest. The end of the collaboration was announced in 1980 through a slue of tags declaring, “SAMO is dead.”

The crown, Basquiat’s signature artistic motif, both acknowledged and challenged the history of Western art. By adorning black male figures, including athletes, musicians and writers, with the crown, Basquiat raised these historically disenfranchised artists to royal even saintly stature. “Jean-Michel’s crown has three peaks, for his three royal lineages: the poet, the musician, the great boxing champion,” said his friend artist Francesco Clemente.

“I was trying to communicate an idea; I was trying to paint a very urban landscape. I was trying to make paintings different from the paintings that I saw a lot of at the time, which were mostly minimal, and they were highbrow and alienating, and I wanted to make very direct paintings that most people would feel the emotion behind when they saw them.”

Sources Consulted


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