"Basquiat's canon revolves around single heroic figures: athletes, prophets, warriors, cops, musicians, kings and the artist himself. In these images the head is often a central focus, topped by crowns, hats, and halos. In this way the intellect is emphasized, lifted up to notice, privileged over the body and the physicality of these figures (i.e. black men) commonly represent in the world."— Kellie Jones, Lost in Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re)Mix
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 22, 1960, shortly after the death of his elder brother, Max. He was the second of four children of Matilde Andrades (July 28, 1934 – November 17, 2008) and Gérard Basquiat (1930 – July 7, 2013). He had two younger sisters: Lisane, born in 1964, and Jeanine, born in 1967.
His Father, Gérard Basquiat, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and his mother, Matilde Basquiat, who was of Puerto Rican descent, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Matilde instilled a love for art in her young son by taking him to art museums in Manhattan 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 age four and was a gifted Artist. His teachers, such as Artist Jose Machado, noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son's artistic talent. By the age of 11, Basquiat was fully fluent in French, Spanish and English. In 1967, Basquiat started attending Saint Ann's, an arts-oriented exclusive private school. He drew with Marc Prozzo, a friend from St. Ann's; they together created a children's book, written by Basquiat and illustrated by Prozzo. Basquiat became an avid reader of Spanish, French, and English texts and a more than competent athlete, competing in track events.
In September 1968, at the age of seven, Basquiat was hit by a car while playing in the street. His arm was broken and he suffered several internal injuries, and he eventually underwent a splenectomy. While he was recuperating from his injuries, his mother brought him the Gray's Anatomy book to keep him occupied. This book would prove to be influential in his Future artistic outlook. His parents separated that year and he and his sisters were raised by their Father. The family resided in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, for five years, then moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1974. After two years, they returned to New York City.
In 1976, Basquiat and friend Al Diaz began spray painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO. 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 at 718 Broadway in NoHo and at night he began "SAMO" painting his original graffiti art on neighborhood buildings. 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 with the epitaph "SAMO IS DEAD", inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in 1979.
In 1979, Basquiat appeared on the live public-access television 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 Basquiat showed, among others, his SAMO color Xerox work.
The early 1980s were Basquiat's breakthrough as a solo Artist. In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda. In September of the same year, Basquiat joined the Annina Nosei gallery and worked in a basement below the gallery toward his first one-man show, which took place in March 1981 with great success.
Basquiat sold his first painting in 1981, and by 1982, spurred by the Neo-Expressionist art boom, his work was in great demand. In 1985, he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in connection with an article on the newly exuberant international art market; this was unprecedented for an African-American Artist, and for an Artist so young. Since Basquiat's death in 1988, his market has developed steadily – in line with overall art market trends – with a dramatic peak in 2007 when, at the height of the art market boom, the global auction volume for his work was over $115 million. Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman of Christie's, is quoted describing Basquiat's market as "two-tiered. [...] The most coveted material is rare, generally dating from the best period, 1981–83."
A middle period from late 1982 to 1985 featured multi-panel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and imagery. The years 1984–85 were also the main period of the Basquiat–Warhol collaborations, even if, in general, they were not very well received by the critics.
According to Andrea Frohne, Basquiat's 1983 painting Untitled (History of the Black People) "reclaims Egyptians as African and subverts the concept of ancient Egypt as the cradle of Western Civilization". At the center of the painting, Basquiat depicts an Egyptian boat being guided down the Nile River by Osiris, the Egyptian god of the earth and vegetation.
By 1986, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei gallery and was showing at the Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10, 1985, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature titled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist". He was a successful Artist in this period, but his growing heroin addiction began to interfere with his personal relationships.
Basquiat was interred in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, where Jeffrey Deitch made a speech at the graveside. Among those speaking at Basquiat's memorial held at Saint Peter's Church on November 3, 1988, were Ingrid Sischy who, as the Editor of Artforum in the 1980s, got to know the Artist well and commissioned a number of articles that introduced his work to the wider world. Suzanne Mallouk recited sections of A. R. Penck's "Poem for Basquiat" and Fab 5 Freddy read a poem by Langston Hughes. The 300 guests included Musicians John Lurie and Arto Lindsay; Artist Keith Haring; poet David Shapiro; Glenn O'Brien, a writer; Fab 5 Freddy; and members of the band Gray, which Basquiat led in the late 1970s. In memory of the late Artist, Keith Haring created Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat (1988).
In 1991, poet Kevin Young produced a book, To Repel Ghosts, a compendium of 117 poems relating to Basquiat's life, individual paintings, and social themes found in the artist's work. He published a "remix" of the book in 2005.
The Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat was formed by the gallery that was assigned to handle the artist's estate. Between 1994 and 2012, it reviewed over 2,000 works of art; the cost of the committee's opinion was $100. The committee was headed by Gérard Basquiat. Members and advisers varied depending on who was available when a piece was being authenticated, but they have included the curators and gallerists Diego Cortez, Jeffrey Deitch, John Cheim, Richard Marshall, Fred Hoffman and Annina Nosei (the artist's first art dealer).
In 1995, Writer, Jennifer Clement, wrote the book Widow Basquiat, based on the stories told to her by Suzanne Mallouk.
Until 2002, the highest amount paid for an original work of Basquiat's was US$3,302,500, set on November 12, 1998, at Christie's. In 2002, Basquiat's Profit I (1982), a large piece measuring 86.5 by 157.5 inches (220 by 400 cm), was set for auction again at Christie's by Drummer Lars Ulrich of the heavy metal band Metallica. It sold for US$5,509,500. The proceedings of the auction are documented in the film Some Kind of Monster.
In the world of jazz, clarinetist Don Byron composed and performed the tune "Basquiat" on his 2000 album A Fine Line: Arias and Lieder.
In 2001 New York Artist and con-artist Alfredo Martinez was charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with attempting to deceive two art dealers by selling them $185,000 worth of fake drawings put forth as being the work of Basquiat. The charges against Martinez, which landed him in Manhattan's Metropolitan Correction Center on June 19, 2002, involved an alleged scheme to sell fake Basquiat drawings, accompanied by forged certificates of authenticity.
In 2005, poet M. K. Asante published the poem "SAMO", dedicated to Basquiat, in his book Beautiful. And Ugly Too.
In 2006 the Equality Forum featured Jean-Michel Basquiat during LGBT history month.
In 2008 the authentication committee was sued by collector Gerard De Geer, who claimed the committee breached its contract by refusing to offer an opinion on the authenticity of the painting Fuego Flores (1983); after the lawsuit was dismissed, the committee ruled the work genuine. In early 2012, the committee announced that it would dissolve in September of that year and no longer consider applications.
A 2009 documentary film, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, directed by Tamra Davis, was first screened as part of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was shown on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2011. Tamra Davis discussed her friendship with Basquiat in a Sotheby's video, Basquiat: Through the Eyes of a Friend.
Korean Rapper T.O.P references Basquiat in his 2013 single "DOOM DADA", when he says "MIC-reul jwin shindeullin, rap Basquiat", which translates as: "A god-given rap Basquiat with a mic." On his mixtape Black Hystori Project, Cyhi the Prynce features a song called "Basquiat". Nicki Minaj mentioned Basquiat on her single "Lookin Ass", featured on the Young Money collaborative album Rise Of An Empire. In Riff Raff's "Gucci Jacuzzi", Lil' Flip says "You know I'm makin' guap, and my painting in my kitchen was made by Basquiat". Madonna references Basquiat in the song "Graffiti Heart" from the super deluxe edition of her album Rebel Heart. The band Fall Out Boy used the Basquiat crown as a part of their logo in 2013. It is still being used. Robb Bank$ compares himself thoroughly to Basquiat in his song "Look like Basquiat". Basquiat was referenced in the Gym Class Heroes' song, "To Bob Ross with Love". Hip-hop Artist Yasiin Bey released a song dedicated to Basquiat, titled "Basquiat Ghostwriter". Bey says he was inspired by the paintings and writings of the Artist.
In 2017, Yusaku purchased Basquiat's Untitled (1982), a powerful depiction of a skull, at auction for a record-setting US$110,487,500--the most ever paid for an American artwork and the sixth most expensive artwork sold at an auction, surpassing Andy Warhol's "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)" which sold in 2013 for $105 million.
In a review for The Telegraph, critic Hilton Kramer starts his first paragraph by stating that Basquiat had no idea what the word “quality” meant. The praises to follow are in the lines of “talentless hustler” and “street-smart but otherwise invincibly ignorant” arguing that art dealers of the time were “as ignorant about art as Basquiat himself.” Saying that Jean-Michel’s work never rose above that “lowly artistic station” of graffiti even when his paintings were selling for giant prices only proves of his childish appreciation of art. Thinking there was some type of cult Kramer states: “As a result of the campaign waged by these art-world entrepreneurs on Basquiat's behalf - and their own, of course - there was never any doubt that the museums, the Collectors and the media would fall into line“ when talking about the marketization of Basquiat’s name.