[ART] 7 Things to Like about Jean-Michel Basquiat

7 things to like about…

Jean-Michel Basquiat

ART STYLE : Neo-Expressionist  / Primitivist

Since I was seventeen I thought I might be a star. I’d think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix… I had a romantic feeling about how these people became famous. – Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat. Trumpet. 1984. Acrylic, crayon, canvas. 152.4 x 152.4 cm. Private Collection.

1.  There’s a lot to say about Basquiat, like that he was a very young artist who died young to drug addiction or that he was also a musician and a producer (source)…
And although those are reasons enough to be interested in Basquiat and his work, one thing to like about this American artist is that he’s self-taught (source). Not given the opportunity to learn in a more formal way, Basquiat, irregardless, pursued art because it helped him like everything better (source).


SAMO graffiti, film stills from New York Beat, 1980-81

2.  He gained his prestigious place in the art world through graffiti (under the pseudonym SAMO) and self-promotion.  “To make ends meet, he sold sweatshirts and postcards featuring his artwork on the streets of his native New York. Three years of struggle gave way to fame in 1980” (source).  Born without the funds that could reassure an art career, Basquiat had to be very persistent and ambitious to make a name for himself.


Basquiat in Italian

3.  Another thing to like about Jean-Michel Basquiat is that he wasn’t limited by his critics and reached out globally to make his art known.  According to Biography.com, he made sure to “exhibit around the country and the world. In 1986, he traveled to Africa for a show in Abidjan, Ivory Coast” (source).  Needless to say, that kind of self-confidence in what he was doing is something to admire.


Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981. Acrylic, oilstick and spray paint on canvas. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

4.  Even though he was well-traveled, Basquiat also didn’t stray too far from his mixed race and ethnic roots. His art reflects his experience and has a very bold quality about it. There was no way it could not be; “born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother” — he clearly found the harmony and the angst between these three worlds. Because of  this, Basquiat”has been credited with bringing the African-American and Latino experience in the elite art world” (source).  As an observation made by the Brooklyn Museum states: “Inspired by his own heritage, Basquiat both contributed to and transcended the African-influenced modernist idiom.” (source).


Basquiat. Untitled (history of the black people)

5.  Maybe one of the most noteworthy things about Basquiat is his contribution to representation.  Because he “didn’t see many paintings with black people in them” he made it so that “[t]he black person is the protagonist in most of [his] paintings” (source).  As any under- or misrepresented person can tell you, that matters a lot.


MoMA Skateboards // Reebok’s Basquiat Collection// Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Secret Society // Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album cover

6.   What’s more, Basquiat continues to get a lot of coverage to this day– you might recognize his style everywhere and not even realize it!  Let’s take Basuiat-appreciator and Brooklyn-born Jay Z, for example. On Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail cover, Jay Z uses the same method of crossing out words as Basquiat does to create intrigue.  Without a doubt, Basuiat’s artwork is basically synonymous with the urban scene and proves to be extremely popular.  Although he wasn’t big on capitalism, he’s “possibly [the] most commercially exploited American “naif” painters of the widely celebrated Neo-Expressionism art movement” (source).

Warhol & Basquiat // Warhol & Basquiat Collaboration

7. And if you still need more reasons to like him, here are some famous people Basquiat influenced! To name a few, his friends Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, and other artists Julian Schnabel and Francesco Clemente all took to Basquiat’s unique, raw style  (source).  Also, for some pop star influence, several hip-hop artists periodically drop his name in their music — GlobalGrind lists 12 rappers (link).  Not only that, the Weeknd seems to be inspired by Basquiat’s hair!  And the admiration doesn’t stop there, Orange is the New Black actress Ruby Rose adorns herself with Basquiat tatts to give tribute to this phenomenal, immortalized artist!

Basquiat // The Weeknd

Ruby Rose // 1


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