Jean-Michel Basquiat American Painter

Essay by lindacuiUniversity, Master's October 2004

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

American Painter

1960 - 1988

Every line means something.

--Basquiat about his work


Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Gerard Basquiat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and his mother, Matilde was born in Brooklyn of Puerto Rican parents.

Jean-Michel Basquiat's productive career spanned just one short decade, yet he is considered one of the best-known artists of his generation and one of only a small number of Hispanic-African-American artists to have achieved international recognition. Graduating from subway walls to canvas and from the streets of New York to the galleries of SoHo, the artist and his work will forever remain a mystery to those who seek explanation.

Jean-Michel's early years were spent with his middle class Haitian father, Gerard, who was unable to fulfill his son's need for nurturing and recognition. To fill the void, Jean-Michel hit the streets of New York at a young age where art became an outlet for his anger and empty childhood.

Also known by the tag "SAMO," Jean-Michel's unique brand of graffiti was found throughout Manhattan as early as 1976. "His work from the first consisted of conceptual, enigmatic combinations of words and symbols, executed with the curt simplicity of a late Roman inscription", according to Henry Geldzahler, longtime curator of twentieth-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jean-Michel was 18 when he approached Geldzahler and Andy Warhol in a SoHo restaurant. He sold Andy a postcard for one dollar but was dismissed by Geldzahler as "too young." Less than three years later (1981) he was invited by artist and filmmaker, Diego Cortez, to participate in the P.S. 1 show, (Institute for Art and Urban Resources), alongside more than twenty artists including Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kenny Sharf and Andy Warhol.