Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was a Haitian-American artist. Basquiat first achieved notoriety during the late 1970s as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti group who were notorious for sprawling mysteriously witty and ingenious expressions throughout the cultural Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City.
Once the hip hop, post-punk and street art movements had emerged in the 1980s, he was exhibiting his Neo-expressionist and primitive paintings in galleries and museums internationally, but he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27 in 1988. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.
Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies,” such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He purposefully utilized poetry, drawing, painting, and integrated text and image, abstraction and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary style all to make a personal statement.
Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a “springboard to deeper truths about the individual”, as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism, while his poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s legacy lives as he is continuously referenced in numerous tracks by the likes of Jay-Z, Swizz Beatz, Nas, Kanye West and Rick Ross, bringing his story and work to the attention of a new generation.