Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22 in 1960 in a square white house in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His mother and father, Matilde and Gérard Basquiat, had four other children. His older brother Max died shortly before Basquiat’s birth, and his two younger sisters, Lisane and Tinani, were very ill. His father was from Haiti and his mother was Puerto Rican. Basquiat’s mother instilled a love for art in him at a very early age. She would take him to local art museums, enrolling him as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Basquiat was considered a very gifted child, having taught himself to read and write at the age of four. His love of art carried over during his school life, too – his teacher would often send notes home to his mother complaining that Basquiat wasn’t paying attention in class and was always doodling. People always said Basquiat was a quiet, melancholy person.

“You gotta know him to see him talk,” Basquiat’s former classmate J. Edmund commented during an interview. “But when he did, when did you get to see him talk? Man, did he talk.”

When Basquiat was seven years old, his Mother sent him to the Saint Anne’s Private School. There he met his lifelong friend Marc Prozzo, and together they created a children’s book; written by Basquiat at the age of seven and illustrated by Prozzo.

Basquiat attended the Edward R. Murrow High School in 1976. Basquiat’s parents separated that year, and he and his sisters were being raised by their father. His mother was committed to a psychiatric hospital when he was 13 and spent her life in and out of institutions. Basquiat struggled to deal with his Mother’s instability and rebelled as a teenager. He ran away from home at 15 when his father caught him smoking pot in his room. He slept on park benches for two weeks, but eventually his father spotted him with a shaved head and called the police to bring him home.

In the 10th grade, he enrolled at City-As-School, an alternative high school in Manhattan home to many artistic students who struggled in traditional school. He would skip school with his friends, but still received encouragement from his teachers. He began to write and illustrate for the school newspaper, and developed the character SAMO to endorse a faux religion.

Basquiat began spray painting graffiti on buildings in lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO and inscribing advertising slogans such as “SAMO AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO GOD.” One month after Basquiat started writing graffiti, he was expelled from school for pieing the principal. At 17, his father kicked him out of the house when he decided to drop out of school. He started working for  a clothing warehouse in NoHo while continuing to create graffiti at night.

On December 11, 1978, The Village Voice published an article about SAMO graffiti. IN 1979, Basquiat appeared on the live television show TV PARTY hosted by Glenn O’Brian. Basquiat and O’Brian became friends and he made regular appearances on the show for the next few years. All the while, Basquiat continued to make art and, in June 1980, he participated in the Times Square multi-artist exhibit.

He was noticed by various critics and curators, including Jefferey Deitch, who mentioned him in a news report of the Art in America. He was recommended to an Italian art dealer by his friend and colleague Sandro Chia, who promptly bought 10 paintings from Basquiat to have in his show in Modena, Italy in May 1981. In December 1981, art critic Rene Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in an art magazine, the first extensive article on Basquiat. In September 1982, Basquiat was invited to an art gallery in Manhattan by art dealer Annina Nosei. She provided him with materials and a space to work in an artist’s studio in the basement of her gallery. By the summer of 1982, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei Gallery and became a worldwide art dealer.

Basquiat died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose in his home in Manhattan on August 12, 1988. Basquiat is buried at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. A private funeral was held at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, attended by Basquiat’s close friends, including his former art dealer Jeffery Deitch, who delivered the Eulogy. In memory of the late artist, Keith Haring created the painting A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat In the obituary Haring wrote for VOGUE, he stated:

“He truly created a lifetime of works in ten years. Greedily, we wonder what else he might have created, what masterpieces we have been cheated out of by his death, but the fact is that he has created enough work to intrigue generations to come. Only now will people begin to understand the magnitude of his contribution”.