Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of “Matilde Andrades, a Brooklyn native of Puerto Rican descent, and Haitian-born Gérard Basquiat” (Neumann, 2013). Jean-Michel was a graffiti artist and member of the SAMO group who worked within the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His work focused on poverty, civil rights, and other issues he felt strongly about. Although he was born into a middle-class family and had privileges most of his friends did not have growing up, he dedicated his work to bringing poverty and other topics to the forefront (Alastair, 2017). During his lifetime his artwork crossed into the mainstream, and collectors flocked to purchase. However, his newfound wealth proved a downfall and turned into an addiction which proved fatal: he died on died August 12, 1988, in Manhattan, New York City of a drug overdose (Alastair, 2017).
Today his work is world renowned and highly sought after, with exhibits in major cities and collectors paying millions. For example, his painting Untitled (1982) sold a few months back in New York for $110.5 million, and in September 2017 an exhibit of his work was opened at the Barbican Art Gallery in London (Alastair, 2017). The painting Untitled (1982) is stated to be a representation of Jean-Michel as Oshoosi, the hunter spirit, and a representation of his African heritage. “The repeated images of a mutilated and empowered Oshoosi are drawn on squares of paper” (Okpewho, Davies, & Mazrui, 1999).
Note: This article was originally published by Misty Hamilton Smith on Nov. 26, 2017, for the course IDS 400 at Southern New Hampshire University.
Alastair, S. (2017). ‘When Jean smiled at you, you could not look away’ Jean-Michel Basquiat, America’s most valuable artist, died of an overdose at 27. His former lover tells Alastair Sooke why she wasn’t surprised le ver. Daily Telegraph (London, England).
Neumann, C. E. (2013). Jean-Michel Basquiat. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia.
Okpewho, I., Davies, C.B., & Mazrui, A.A. (1999). The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.