In his difficult younger years, after living in New York, Puerto Rico, and then New York again with his father and sisters, Basquiat witnessed the institutionalization of his mentally ill mother, and after attempting to run away when 15, he eventually dropped out of high school, his father kicked him out and he stayed with friends - a homeless youth.
To support himself, the young man started making and selling t-shirts and postcards featuring his art. Collaborating with a friend (Al Diaz ), he soon gravitated to a form of poetic graffiti and made a name for himself as part of SAMO (a stylization of the phrase “same old”). Productions signed with the distinctive SAMO logo (including a copyright symbol) began appearing in Manhattan in 1977, and over the course of the next couple of years became locally famous. Interestingly, the SAMO graffiti were primarily text, consisting of poetical and polemical fragments done in a block letter style, and had little in common with the more artistic graffiti that would become part of pop culture.
Some of these temporary productions were photographed and preserved, but many were lost after being painted over or destroyed. 1979 saw the appearance of solo graffiti by Basquiat, and his discovery by pop artist Keith Haring, and in 1980 SAMO was declared dead while he started painting and drawing in more traditional media. At the age of 21, Basquiat's rapid rise to fame as an artist was just beginning.