Artist Feature: Jean-Michel Basquiat - Artist Feature: Jean-Michel Basquiat -
Artist Feature: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Artist Feature: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Sep 15, 2023

Jean-Michel Basquiat took the art world by storm in the 1980s, thanks to his pioneering combination of abstract expressionism and elements of graffiti art style. His paintings often incorporated text, including poetry, historical references, and political statements. However, his artistic career was cut tragically short when he died at the age of 27 of a heroin overdose. Today he is considered one of the most famous American artists of all time, a fame he never achieved in life, as his work has posthumously accrued enormous value and recognition. 

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Haitian and Puerto Rican parents. Although his parents were of little means, his mother encouraged his artistic tendencies from a young age and sent him to a private arts-oriented school. After his mother was institutionalized, he was raised by his father. He ran away, living on the streets and eventually dropping out of high school. This was when he began spray painting graffiti under the moniker “SAMO”, often writing bits of poetry and political statements.  

Basquiat was living in Greenwich Village when he fell in with the NYC art scene. He began exhibiting at galleries and became the youngest artist ever to be included in the Whitney Biennial. He became involved in collaborations with the artist Andy Warhol, although many say that Warhol was exploiting Basquiat and enabling his drug addiction. He died in 1988 of a heroin overdose, as his career was reaching meteoric heights.

basquiat color

Art by Kat Sampson

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Born: 1960

Deceased: 1988

“I want to be a star, not a gallery mascot.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an artist obsessed with binaries. His work often explored themes like poor versus wealthy, white versus black, and integration versus segregation. He was known to paint in expensive suits and go to gallery openings in paint-splattered ripped-up clothes. He sometimes gave his work away even when it was selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and routinely bowled over everyone’s expectations of what a successful young artist should do. His death at such a young age cut his prolific career short, but his body of work stands as a uniquely kaleidoscopic and intimate testament to his creative genius. 


In collaboration with Kat Sampson, we present The Not Just Dead White Guys coloring book with 24 vibrant portraits, showcasing diverse artists, both deceased and living. Half are contemporary artists who are shaping the art scene today, while the others are important historical figures, including Jean-Michel Basquiat. Join us to celebrate their diverse contributions and create a more inclusive art world!

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Sep 15, 2023
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