Jean-Michel Basquiat

King of the 1980s New York art scene, Jean-Michel Basquiat defined a generation. The rhythms of the street, the ghosts of art history and the vibrations of pop culture collided in his work. He sampled words and images with the flair of a poet, fusing drawing, painting, printing, writing and collage. Though his meteoric career was cut short by his tragic death at the age of 27, he left behind an extraordinary body of art whose influence continues to resound today.

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn to parents of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. He loved art as a child and regularly visited museums with his mother. At the age of seven he was hospitalised after being hit by a car. While recuperating, he devoured a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, fascinated by its diagrams of the human form. The skull, in particular, would feature heavily in his practice: works such as Untitled (1982) and In This Case (1983) — both sold at Christie’s — stand among his most expensive paintings at auction.

Basquiat started his career painting graffiti on Manhattan’s Lower East Side under the pseudonym SAMO. Major early exhibitions, including The Times Square Show in 1980 and New York/New Wave in 1981, quickly brought him to the attention of the art world. In 1981 Basquiat made the transition from street to studio after the gallerist Annina Nosei provided him with his first workspace in SoHo. That year the critic Rene Ricard published his seminal article ‘The Radiant Child’, describing him as the lovechild of Jean Dubuffet and Cy Twombly. By 1982, Basquiat had skyrocketed onto the global stage.

Basquiat’s works reflect the extraordinary breadth of his cultural imagination. Influences ranging from cartoons, hip hop and Beat poetry to African tribal art, antiquities and the work of Pablo Picasso surge across their surfaces. Words, symbols and phrases recur like talismans, referencing street culture, music, history and the spectre of global consumerism. Often his figures represent self-portraits; others depict Black heroes from fields such as boxing and jazz. Many bear his signature crown motif, reflecting his complex relationship with fame and fortune. Basquiat also produced a number of works in collaboration with Pop Art veteran Andy Warhol, with whom he became close friends.

After Basquiat died in 1988, his comrade Keith Haring published a tribute in Vogue. ‘Greedily we wonder what masterpieces we might have been cheated out of by his death,’ he wrote; ‘…only now will people begin to understand the magnitude of his contribution.’ Indeed, with each passing year, Basquiat’s paintings and drawings continue to reveal new layers of meaning, each a hymn to the flux, multiplicity and simultaneity of human experience.

AFTER JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Cabeza, from Portfolio II

AFTER JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Charles the First, from Portfolio II

AFTER JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Rome Pays Off, from Portfolio II

AFTER JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Jawbone of an Ass, from Portfolio II

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Untitled (Head of the Mandible), from Anatomy

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile)

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

The Guilt of Gold Teeth

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

The Field Next to the Other Road

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face)

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown)

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Future Sciences Versus the Man

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Because it Hurts the Lungs

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Sabado por la Noche (Saturday Night)

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Untitled (Self Portrait)

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (USA, 1960-1988)

Untitled (Orange Sports Figure)

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

Untitled (Pablo Picasso)

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)

His Glue Sniffing Valet