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Jean-Michel Basquiat – The Neo-Expressionist & Graffiti Milestone!

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a great artist, born in Brooklyn, the New York City on December 22, 1960. His father, Gerard Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian, was a former Haitian minister of interiors. His mother, Matilde, was from Puerto Rica. Jean was a very intelligent kid since childhood and had strong inclination for language and literature. Moreover, owing to his “multinational” parents, he was very fluent in English, Spanish, & French, and used to read history, medical texts, poetry, mythology, etc.

Since his childhood, Jean had an interest in art. Michel’s mother noticed this. Knowing his interest and keenness, she encouraged her child to paint and draw. At the age of seventeen, in 1977, Michel, along with his friend, Al Diaz, started spray painting graffiti in Manhattan and on the subways. Jean-Michel and his friend would sign their works with “SAMO’. In December 1978, the Village Voice, New York’s weekly newspaper, carried an article on SAMO messages. SAMO phase ended with the declaration “SAMO IS DEAD” on the walls of SoHo buildings.

In 1978, just a year before his graduation from school, Jean left home and dropped out of school. He started living with his friends, and would sell T-shirts and painted postcards on the city streets for his livelihood. By the year 1979, he had become quite famous, as he was regular on Glenn O’Brien’s show, TV Party. In June 1980, Jean-Michel’s paintings were exhibited for the first time at the Times Square Show, along with the artworks of David Hammons, Mimi Gross, Mike Glier, Robin Winters, Jane Dickson, Lee Quinones, Kenny Scharf, Kiki Smith, and Jenny Holzer. After this exhibition, Jean started exhibiting his art in Europe and around the New York City. He also worked with great painters such as Barbara Kruger and Keith Haring. 1980s was the era, when Jean-Michel Basquiat gained popularity as a Neo-expressionist.

Apart from forming a band with the musician and actor Vincent Gallo in the late 1970s, Jean-Michel Basquiat also acted in a movie. His band was named Gray, which played in the clubs. In 1981, the first major article titled, “The Radiant Child,” was published on Jean, in the magazine, Artforum. Artist and poet, Rene Richards, wrote the article. This helped give Jean’s career a big leap to the international level. 1980-82, Basquiat’s canvass adorned “mortality” as the theme reflected through skeletons and faces.

Jean-Michel Basquiat continued showing his work alongside the likes of Francesco Clemente, David Salle, and Enzo Cucchi. In the fall 1982, he began dating Madonna, an aspiring performer. Nearly the same year, he befriended the artists, Andy Warhol and David Bowes. He traveled through Africa and an exhibition of his work was held in Ivory Coast. Later, a large exhibition was also held displaying more than sixty paintings and drawings at Kestner-Gesellschaft. At that time, he was the youngest artist there to exhibit his work. In 1988, Jean had an exhibition in both, New York and Paris. The art display in New York received high praises.

By 1984, Jean had started taking drugs and developed an addiction for heroine. Owing drug abuse, he suffered from paranoia and erratic behavior. 1982-85, Jean Basquiat’s paintings graduated to multipanel level, stretcher bars displaying, collage, and scribbles. The death of Andy Warhol in 1987 took its toll on Jean-Michel Basquiat, and his drug addiction symptoms augmented. He tried hard to get rid of his heroine habit. He left for Hawaii and returned claiming he had recovered from the drug addiction. On August 12, 1988 though, at the age of 27, Jean died of drug overdose. Though no more around, but Jean, through his paintings, continues to inspire the modern artists such as Mark Gonzales, Kelly D. Williams, Chinghalle, and Raymond Morris.