Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Artist focus: Jean-Michel Basquiat

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A native New Yorker
The 1970s was a crazy and intense decade. New York was known as a magnet for ambitious and talented individuals who rejected conventional life in favour of self-expression and hedonism. One of the most colourful characters on the New York scene was the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was just beginning to make a name for himself in the 70s but his distinctive artwork is now highly sought-after.

Spirit of the Seventies 
Born in Brooklyn in 1960, he was the son of parents of Caribbean descent. Even as a boy he had a spirited personality. His sisters recall the time he got them to call and order food to be delivered from all the local restaurants – about 20 – so they could have the thrill of seeing all the delivery people standing on the street below!


Off the wall
Basquiat’s talent for art was obvious from a very young age and by the time he was 15 he had started to spray graffiti on buildings around Manhattan. Graffiti influences can still be seen in much of his work, which mixes graphic details such as letters, symbols, logos, numbers and diagrams with more figurative elements.

Scene stealer
By the time he was 21 Basquiat was showing in New York galleries and selling pieces for $1,000s. (A recent sale at Sotheby’s saw one of his paintings sell for $110 million.) His distinctive style really stood out from other young artists and he fast became the talk of the Big Apple art scene. Basquiat knew he had arrived and had to make the most of this moment.

Jean-Michel and Andy
Basquiat quickly became well-connected among the New York artworld elite. He was a regular at parties where he met and befriended pop stars and other artists, such as Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel. He saw Andy Warhol in a restaurant, and approached him to sell him an artwork. The two formed an immediate connection. Warhol was a kind of mentor for Basquiat, they worked together - and even worked out together - but there were also tensions between them. Warhol was already famous, the centre of The Factory, a large and well-known circle of creative talent, while Basquiat was over 30 years younger and trying hard to be famous in his own right.


Global recognition
Sadly his career was very short - he died at the age of 27 in 1988, but hundreds of drawings and canvases remain. Basquiat really was ahead of his time with a distinctive style that was modern, mystical, charming but also satirical. Collected by – and referenced by – global stars such as Jay Z and Kanye West, he is truly famous now.

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