Jean Michel Basquiat Bio - Street Art To Fame To Death

by frugalrvers

The tragic Jean Michel Basquiat death was a tremendous loss to the art world. Starting out as a graffiti artist, he rose to fame and became a millionaire before his death at 27.

The works of Basquiat are some of the most popular and widely known on the collector's market today, as well as in pop culture. His paintings and drawings have sold for millions, and his estate is a huge business.

Hard to believe, but the artist started out as a graffiti-creating street kid, homeless and selling postcards to tourists. His life is one of many contrasts, and his early death at 27 was a tragedy for the world of art.

Jean Michele Basquiat Artwork - A Rags To Riches Tale

The story of artist Jean Michel Basquiat (pronounced boss-key-AH) is a real life Horatio Alger tale for the 20th century. In the early part of the century, these narratives of street urchins and farm boys who became wealthy after working hard and working smart were popular pulp reading for the masses.


Once in a while, a non-fictional story comes along that rivals any fiction that could be imagined, and the life of Basquiat and his post-modernist, neo-expressionist art is one of these. A prodigy from a broken home and the survivor of a tragic childhood, he left home in his teens and became well known as a graffiti artist on the streets of New York.


By the end of his short life, he was selling his work for millions, and his posthumous success has grown by leaps and bounds. From the walls of the subway to the halls of high-end auctions houses like Christie's and Sotheby's, the arc of Basquiat's creative life is a fascinating and amazing true story of rags to riches.

Basquiat Movie - The Radiant Child

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
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Jean Michel Basquiat Graffiti Art Began With Gray's Anatomy?

Born to a Puerto Rican mother and Haitian father, Basquiat reportedly showed artistic talent from an early age. He was highly intelligent, learning languages easily, and was a precocious child. At age 8 he suffered severe injuries from an accident, and while he was recuperating he immersed himself in a book given to him by his adoring mother - Gray's Anatomy.


While other influences were cited by the artist in later years, including African rock art and the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, it is evident that Gray's medically precise and educational anatomical diagrams with text incorporated into the drawings made a huge and lasting impression on the young artist - many of his most well-known and highly regarded collages and collage-style paintings look like Gray's illustrations gone wild.

Jean Michel Basquiat TRUMPET

Trumpet, 1984 by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean Michel Basquiat Street Art Beginnings

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.

Basquiat DOWNTOWN 81 Movie - He Stars In It

Downtown 81

Jean Michel Basquiat Madonna Pairing?

In addition to having a social and occupational connection with many famous New Yorkers and Hollywood celebrities such as Andy Warhol, Leonardo Dicaprio, and David Bowie, Basquiat and Madonna were apparently an item. At least, he was her boy toy for a brief affair in 1982, long enough for Madonna to take a lot of photos of them together which even now are appearing on the Internet. Apparently she set her sights on the up-and-coming bad boy artist, pursuing his affections in a major way. She ran into trouble with another paramour of his, however, and the resulting public “catfight” at the Roxy nightclub between the 2 women was apparently immortalized in a painting by Basquiat.

Jean Michel Basquiat Images Like This One Show Gray's Influence

Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump, 1982 Poster Print by Jean-Michel Basqu...

Andy Warhol And Jean Michel Basquiat Collaboration - The Peak Years

After an article on Basquiat in the magazine Artforum brought a new round of public attention to his work, he began painting and producing many now-famous pieces.


He worked with David Bowie during this time and made many contacts in the high level art world of his home city as well as in the US, while selling his work in galleries.


From 1983 to 1985, Jean Michel Basquiat collaborated with Andy Warhol on a series of pieces, and the two became close friends. While the work produced with Warhol is not considered his best, he always appreciated the time they spent together and deeply mourned Warhol at his passing a couple of years later.


Other paintings by Basquiat during this period show him at his absolute peak of creativity, and these became the most valuable to collectors in the future.

Jean Michel Basquiat Death, And Continued Fame

Jean Basquiat was rewarded with financial success and critical acclaim in the last few years of his life, but he unfortunately developed an addiction to heroin along with achieving a degree of wealth. After Warhol died in 1987, he spiraled downward further into substance abuse and met his end with an overdose in 1988 when he was 27, thus becoming a member of the Forever 27 Club List of talented artists/musicians who died much too young.


After his death, the value of his art continued to increase, and all of his work became collectible. In 1996 a biographical movie named "Basquiat" was made, with David Bowie playing Andy Warhol and Jeffrey Wright as Jean Michel Basquiat - plus other big stars in cameo roles. Disappointingly, the estate would not permit his actual art to be used in the film, so viewers only get a taste of his output.


Throughout the 2000s, Basquiat's drawings and paintings have traded hands for millions of dollars, and individual pieces have set records for sales for contemporary artists. From the streets of New York to the auction houses of London, his life and his art continue a fantastic journey.

The Basquiat Movie With Many Stars, Including David Bowie!


Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright) was just an antisocial street bum writing graffiti on alley walls before he became part of Andy Warhol's (David Bowie) eccentric art scene....

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Basquiat Prints For Sale

For the majority of fans, purchasing Basquiat's art is a little out of most budgets. So a fan will have to settle for his artwork on posters, in books and the like. The following are just a few samples of his amazing work - enjoy having a look and, if you like it, be sure to view his collection of works!

Jean Michel Basquiat Untitled Artwork - Just A Sampling

Untitled (1981)
Untitled (Fallen Angel) 1981 by Jean-Michel Basquiat
Untitled (1982)


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Updated: 05/09/2018, frugalrvers
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Basquiat Comments

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frugalrvers on 04/03/2013

Thank you for your sweet comment! Glad you enjoyed the article....

FitAndFab on 04/03/2013

I had never heard of jean michel basquiat but I enjoyed reading about him through your style of writing. He chose to experience much in his short life and has gifted us with his work. Thanks for sharing. :-)

frugalrvers on 04/02/2013

As always, thanks for your comment Mira - and taking the time to read my article :)

Mira on 04/02/2013

I enjoyed learning more about Basquiat. Also enjoyed the images. Great article. Keep them coming :)

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