Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. His ethnic background was Hatian, through his father,
and Puerto Rican, through his mother.
Basquiat had an interest in art that was developed from his mother’s insistence, and encouragement; but he learned to draw just by teaching himself through practice. By the age of 11, Basquiat was fluent in Spanish, French and English. At 15, Basquiat ran away from home, and slept on park benches in Manhattan’s East Village
Not long after running away from home, Basquiat dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.
After he dropped out, and though he was attending the alternative school, his father kicked him out of the house, causing Basquiat to stay with friends in Brooklyn and make ends meet by selling t-shirts and homemade post cards. Under the name “SAMO”, in the late 70’s, as a pre-teen Basquiat worked with a close friend to put graffiti on the trains, and buildings around various parts of Manhattan.
In 1980, Basquiat would star in an independent film called Downtown 81. In 1981, Basquiat starred in a Blondie music video for the song “Rapture” as a nightclub DJ.
After struggling to get his work noticed, and selling random items, Basquiat’s break came in 1980. He was fortunate enough to have his work featured with a group in an art show.
He joined the Annina Nosei gallery, and worked in the basement under the gallery toward his first one-man show that took place in March 1981. In December 1981, Reñe Ricard published an article titled “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine featuring Basquiat and from there he was brought to the attention of the art world.
The work of Basquiat was inspired by his graffiti past. Basquiat’s work was ripe with symbology, and references, to African history as well. In the mid-1980’s, Basquiat had a famed collaboration with pop artist Andy Warhol.
At only 25 years old, Basquiat exhibited nearly 60 paintings at the famed Kestner-Gesellschaft Gallery in Hanover, Germany; becoming the youngest artist to ever showcase their work in the gallery.
On August 12, 1988, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at his art studio on Great Jones Street in Manhattan. He was only 27 years old.