American Artist, Poet and Pop-Culture Icon

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1960. Basquiat was known for his unmistakable iconography and for using his art as social commentary to bring awareness to abusive power structures and to stand against racial prejudices in America. He knew that his type of voice was missing from the art world, so he inserted himself.

Early in his career, Basquiat and a friend formed an art collective duo known as SAMO, which garnered them much notoriety in the streets of New York City. At that time, Black artists had a need to express themselves but were rarely acknowledged by well-established museums and galleries. As SAMO, they used graffiti, an art form popular amongst street artists, to showcase their talent. Basquiat used buildings and subway trains as a canvas to write his thought-provoking, poetic prose to grab the attention of those who passed by.

As he developed his painting style, his art often focused on uplifting Black and Latino historical figures, appropriating them as heroes and saints. Through his art, Basquiat was able to comment on popular culture, while entrancing the viewer into making a deep connection with his imagery. Basquiat became one of the most famous artists of the 1980s and arguably the most important artist of the 20th century. His style encompassed three perspectives: he communicated information like ancient African wall paintings; he spoke to the “times” in which he lived; and he spoke as a voice from the future. He did these all at once. In his short career, Basquiat produced an estimated 1,500 drawings and 600 paintings. One of his most popular signatures is his three-point crown motif used to appoint heroes and royalty.

Although Basquiat died in 1988, his art is still making an impact in the art world. In 2017, Jean-Michel Basquiat set a record as the highest-selling American artist, when one of his paintings sold at an auction for $110.5 million. Rest in Power!