(1960 - 1988) Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, the second of four children. His father, Gerard Basquiat, was born in Haiti, and his mother, Matilde Basquiat, of Afro-Puerto Rican descent, was born in New York. Matilde instilled a love for art in Jean-Michel by taking him to art museums and enrolling him as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Basquiat was a precocious child who learned how to read and write by the age of four and was a gifted artist. His teachers noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son's talent.
When he was 11, Basquiat's mother was committed to a mental institution and thereafter spent time in and out of institutions. At 15, he ran away from home. He slept on park benches and was arrested and returned to the care of his father within a week.
Basquiat dropped out of High School in the tenth grade. His father banished him from the household and Basquiat stayed with friends in Brooklyn. He supported himself by selling homemade post cards and T-shirts.
Working under the pseudonym SAMO, In 1976, Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz began spray painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan. The designs featured inscribed messages such as "Plush safe he think.. SAMO" and "SAMO as an escape clause".
In 1978, Basquiat worked for the Unique Clothing Warehouse, in their art department. Unique's founder, Harvey Russack discovered Basquiat painting a building one night, they became friends, and he offered him a day job. On December 11, 1978, The Village Voice published an article about the graffiti. When Basquiat and Diaz ended their friendship, The SAMO project ended in 1979 with the epitaph "SAMO IS DEAD," inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings.
In 1979, Basquiat also appeared on the live public-access television cable TV show "TV Party" hosted by Glenn O'Brien, and the two started a friendship. Basquiat made regular appearances on the show over the next few years. That same year, Basquiat formed the noise rock band "Test Pattern" – which was later renamed "Gray" – which played at Arleen Schloss's open space, "Wednesdays at A's", where in October 1979 he showed, among others, his SAMO colour Xerox work.
Gray also consisted of Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Nick Taylor, Wayne Clifford and Vincent Gallo, and the band performed at nightclubs such as Max's Kansas City, Hurrah, CBGB and the Mudd Club. In 1980, Basquiat starred in Glenn O'Brien's independent film, Downtown 81, originally titled New York Beat. That same year, Basquiat met Andy Warhol at a restaurant. Basquiat presented to Warhol samples of his work, and Warhol was stunned by Basquiat's genius and allure. The two artists later collaborated. Downtown 81 featured some of Gray's recordings on its soundtrack. Basquiat also appeared in the Blondie music video "Rapture" as a nightclub DJ.
Basquiat broke through as a solo artist in the early 1980s. Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda in June 1980. Three months later, Basquiat joined the Annina Nosei gallery and worked in the basement below the gallery towards his first one-man show. This took place in March 1981 with great success.
In December 1981, René Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world.
In March 1982 he worked in Modena, Italy and from November, Basquiat worked from the studio space and ground-floor display Larry Gagosian had built below his Venice, California home. Basquiat commenced a series of paintings for a 1983 show, his second at Gagosian Gallery, then in West Hollywood.
During this time Basquiat took considerable interest in the work that Robert Rauschenberg was producing at Gemini G.E.L. in West Hollywood, visiting him on several occasions and finding inspiration in the accomplishments of the painter. In 1982, Basquiat also worked briefly with the musician and artist David Bowie.
In 1983, Basquiat produced a 12 inch rap single featuring hip-hop artists Rammellzee and K-Rob. Billed as Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, the single contained two versions of the same track "Beat Bop" on side one with vocals and "Beat Bop" on the flip side as an instrumental. The single was pressed in limited quantities on the one-off Tartown Record Company label. The record's cover featured Basquiat's artwork, making the pressing highly desirable among both art and record collectors.
At the suggestion of Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger, Basquiat worked with Andy Warhol and on a series of collaborative paintings between 1983 and 1985. In the case of Olympic Rings (1985), Warhol made several variations of the Olympic five-ring symbol, rendered in the original primary colours, whilst Basquiat responded to the stylized, abstract logos with his oppositional graffiti style.
Basquiat often painted in expensive Armani suits and would even appear in public in the same paint-splattered clothes.
By 1986, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei gallery, and was now showing at the Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10th 1985, he appeared on the front cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist".
He was a successful artist during this period, but his growing heroin addiction had begun to interfere with his personal relationships.
When Andy Warhol died on February 22, 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated, and his depression and heroin addiction grew more severe. Despite an attempt to sober up during a trip to Hawaii, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose on August 12th 1988 at his art studio on Great Jones Street in New York City's NoHo neighbourhood. He was just 27.
During his life, a major reference source used by Basquiat for his art was the book Gray's Anatomy, which his mother had given him while he was in hospital at age seven followin ga traffic accident. It remained influential in his depictions of internal human anatomy, and in its mixture of text and image. Other major sources were Henry Dreyfuss' Symbol Sourcebook, Brentjes' African Rock Art and Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.
Basquiat doodled often and some of his later pieces exhibited this; they were often coloured pencil on paper with a spontaneous, loose and dirty style much like his paintings. His work across all mediums displays a childlike fascination with the process of creating.