Jean-Michel Basquiat, born December 22, 1960 in New York City, was an American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. Basquiat first came to prominence as part of SAMO, a graffiti duo. The pair would write mysterious statements around the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s. It was a time when rap, punk, and street art combined into early hip-hop music culture. By the early 1980s, Basquiat made his breakthrough as a solo artist and his paintings were being exhibited in galleries and museums. At 21, Basquiat became the youngest artist to ever take part in documenta. An exhibition of contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. At 22, he was the youngest to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York.
Basquiat’s art focuses on socio-political issues such as poverty, race, self-identity, and religion. Critiques believe that a lot of Basquiat’s work is autobiographical. Indeed, a common theme in Basquiat’s works are the ideas surrounding finding one’s self. For example, in Untitled 1981, considered a self-portrait, there is a skull depicted somewhere between life and death. Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a tool for reflection and for identifying his experiences as a person of colour. His artistic style, which linked to his career as a graffiti artist, combined poetry, drawing, painting, and married text and image. In doing this he was able to mix different mediums vital to the underlying message and meant he was able to confront issues head on.
Jean-Michel Basquiat struggled with drug addiction for much of his 20’s. Despite attempts to become Sober, he died of a heroin overdose 12 August, 1988. He was 27 years old and left his girlfriend, Kelle Inman. Throughout his art career, he received much criticism that was good and bad. It was clear that he did not let this effect his work and exhibited in many museums all over the world.
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