Jean-Michel Basquiat: Flexible

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Flexible, 1984
The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Keith Haring: painting in the NY subway

Keith Haring
painting in the NY subway, 1983


I have never understood why, but the Arts & entertainment world have always felt a quite sinister fascination for the "died too young" artists. Perhaps the most famous case is James Dean in cinema, but you surely know what Kurt Cobain meant to the music world, or Jack Kerouac to literature. And, if you look to contemporary painting, you will finally find the figure of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Died at only 26, after a frenzy life highlighted with his ferocious graffiti art works, his multiple drug addictions and his problematic friendship with the also polemical Andy Warhol, Basquiat established himself not only as one of the most important artists of the second half of the past century, but also as a tragic icon of the contemporary Art world.

By G. Fernández


Born on December 22nd, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up in the streets of Brooklyn, New York, and as a teenager he created several ferocious graffitis on the subway trains of Lower Manhattan subways, signing them with the anagram SAMO©, which means "SAMe Old shit".

In 1980, when he was only 19 years old, Basquiat took part in the exhibition "Times Square Show", and attracted the attention of both critics and specialized press. The following year, he exhibited at the P.S.1 Gallery, where he achieved a great success, and he began his friendship with one of the most famous and controversial artistic personalities of that period, Andy Warhol. Warhol and Basquiat admired each other, and collaborated in almost a hundred works.

In 1983 Basquiat travelled to the Italian city of Modena, where he attended to his first individual exhibition. This much-hyped event was a extraordinary success, making him the most respected Afro-American painter. But this success had also a dark, negative side: Basquiat began his drug use (and abuse), which often made him to stay in a semi-paranoid state. On August 12th, 1988, Basquiat was found dead due to drug overdose on his apartment. He was only 27 years old.

Stylistically, Basquiat's works are much harder to explain than what a first or superficial analysis could make believe, being inspired by multiple references such as contemporary artists like Picasso, the jazz music, the African art and culture, and perhaps even the drug abuse.

In 2002, his work "Profit I" was auctioned at Christie's New York for more than $5,5 million. The work was painted in Italy in 1982, when Basquiat was only 21 years old.


Basquiat is, without doubt, the most important and well-known figure of the graffiti movement of the NY scene in the early 80s, but at least two other artists are worthy of being recognized here: KENNY SCHARF (born 1958) worked in Soho, where he exhibited at the Fun galleries (name given by Scharf himself). KEITH HARING (1958-1990) also worked in Soho and East Village, but his style was even more ferocious and self-destructives than Scharf's works. Haring, arguably the most important artist of the grafitti movement after Basquiat, was also an accomplished figure outside the artistic world, participating in many campaigns against the HIV.

Other important artists of the graffiti movement were Mike Bildo, Tom Otterness or Rhonda Zwillinger.

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