Neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat was born December 22, 1960. With his mother’s encouragement, the Brooklyn native showed an investment in art at a young age. He was an active museum-goer and reader of symbolist poetry which heavily influenced his mark on the art world. Basquiat was the product of a broken home, adopted by a family-friend, infrequently attended schools in both New York and Puerto Rico, and eventually ended up dropping out of high school at age 18. He proved to live a brief and distressed life, passing suddenly at age 27, but accomplishing enough to make an impression on generations to come.
Basquiat’s professional art-life began in the 70s in New York City’s graffiti movement. His famous tag SAMO—an acronym for “Same Old Shit”—became his pen-name and platform for officially rejecting the system through anti-establishment, anti-religion and anti-politics. He created a strong conviction of his beliefs through art, branded within a contemporary framework. SAMO was quickly devoured by the media for its cultural (and counter-cultural) influences. Later, his neo-expressionism was highlighted in galleries during the 80s which sparked his use of images of the African diaspora and classic Americana painting. He made clear to highlight the lives of people of color as an artist of influence. He says, “The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.” Basquiat’s young adult life also rendered a struggle, as he was homeless, begging for money, drug dealing and pushing postcards and t-shirts for profit. During his struggle, Basquiat remained steadfast in his passion while continuing to support local artists by attending shows and exhibits.
He left more than 1,000 paintings behind and a name to be remembered. Basquiat’s work reflected his modern, radical life through the raw energy presented in his paintings and drawings. He took on the task of accentuating the lives of heroic figures, monarchs, celebrities and, of course, himself. He used the image of the crown to value the strength in many of his subjects. Focus was heavily placed on the head, acknowledging the importance of intellect as superior to the physical body. Through his art, Basquiat created a social stance with the world. He says, “I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.” Basquiat had become his own critic and thus, accomplished more of what he deemed as important.
He inspired many to cherish their fleeting youth through his presence in the American art movement. Within his work existed an emphasis on spontaneous and subconscious expression. Basquiat contentiously used the time he was given to make an impression on the world. He was the manifestation of creativity in the face of adversity, known, not only throughout New York City street life, but society as a whole. He often made appearances in periodicals and magazines that focused on a range of topics from fashion to music. His fame status continues to grow and market prices for his artwork are at an all-time high. As a creative, I am inspired to express myself through Basquiat’s own aphorism: “I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.”