Jean Michel Basquiat
December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, the first of three children. His father, Gerard Basquiat, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and his mother, Matilde Basquiat, was of Puerto Rican descent, born in Brooklyn, New York. Basquiat was a precocious child who learned how to read and write by age four and was a gifted artist. His teachers noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son's artistic talent. His mother suffered from mental illness, which caused a strain on his family.
At 15, Basquiat ran away from home. He slept on park benches in Washington Square Park, and was arrested and returned to the care of his father within a week. Basquiat dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. His father banished him from the household and Basquiat stayed with friends in Brooklyn. He supported himself by selling T-shirts and homemade post cards. He also worked at the Unique Clothing Warehouse in West Broadway, Manhattan. In 1976, Basquiat and friends Al Diaz and Shannon Dawson 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." On December 11, 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the graffiti. 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 cable TV 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 Gray with Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Nick Taylor, Wayne Clifford and Vincent Gallo. Gray performed at nightclubs such as Max's Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrah, and the Mudd Club. In 1980, Basquiat starred in O'Brien's independent film Downtown 81, originally titled New York Beat. That same year, O'Brien introduced Basquiat to Andy Warhol, with whom he later collaborated.
In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda. In 1981, Rene Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world. In late 1981, he joined the Annina Nosei gallery in SoHo. By 1982, Basquiat was showing regularly alongside other Neo-expressionist artists including Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente, and Enzo Cucchi. He was represented in Los Angeles by the Larry Gagosian gallery and throughout Europe by Bruno Bischofberger.
By 1986, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei gallery, and was showing in the famous Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10, 1986, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "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.
When Andy Warhol died on February 22, 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated, and his heroin addiction and depression grew more severe. Despite an attempt at sobriety during a trip to Maui, Hawaii, Basquiat died on August 12, 1988, of a heroin overdose at his art studio in Great Jones Street in New York City's NoHo neighborhood. He was 27.