Jean-Michel Basquiat – one of the seminal artists of the 21st. Century

In his late teens he was hustling postcards on the subways of New York and on the streets in SoHo.

Either he, or his schoolmate Al Diaz, under the name, SAMO – Same Old Shit, had produced them.

The reason?

His father had kicked him out of the house. Selling them for as little as $100 each was his way of trying to make ends meet.

Little did anyone know that eventually many of those postcards would sell for as much as $50,000 and higher.

Jean-Michel Basquiat In His Late Teens

The postcards were a foreshadowing of the fabulous career Basquiat was to enjoy as an artist.

Precocious he was – at the age of four he was able to read and write. At age 11 able to speak, read, and write fluently in English, French and Spanish.

At 21, Basquiat became the youngest artist to ever take part in one of the world’s most important art shows, Documenta in Kassel, Germany.

One year later – age 22 – he was the youngest artist to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York, yet another major achievement.

Five years later – age 27 – dead from a drug overdose.

During his short career Basquiat managed to attract the well-known, the rich and the poor.

He dated Madonna for a while.

Andy Warhol became a close personal friend, mentor, and fellow artist, after Warhol bought one of Basquiat’s postcards on the streets of Manhattan.

Basquiat was self taught, a rebel, defying conventional art of the day.

He was part of the counter-culture, the punk rock movement, questioning societies mores and beliefs, in a “up yours” kind of a way, enveloping the New York, art, music and fashion scene.

His art was all about skull-laden imagery, endless scribbling, weird symbols – all at the early age of 20.

Formality was the enemy, defiance was in.


“I never went to an art school. I failed the art courses that I did take in school. I just looked at a lot of things. And that’s how I learnt about art, by looking at it.”

The graffiti images he and Diaz plastered all over New York gained the attention of the art world.

It resulted in Basquiat being part of a group show containing 20 artists.

But his paintings stood out, good enough for him to gain an art dealer and the attention of an influential magazine, Artforum

The magazine in an article, The Radiant Child, raised the spectre that Basquiat was a major artist in the making.

From then on Basquiat’s career was on a upward trajectory.

But with the fame, the money, the adulation of influential collectors, prominent art dealers, there also came the degradation, the paranoia, the loathing of being a major drug addict – dead at 27 after a drug overdose.

Today, Basquiat’s works are held in collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and major collectors throughout the world.

One of Basquiat’s paintings – Untitled – done in 1982 was sold to the Japanese billionaire , Yusaku Maezawa, for the astonishing price of $110.5 (U.S.) at a Sotheby’s auction.

It was the highest price ever realized for an American artist .

I start a picture and I finish it. I don’t think about art while I work. I try to think about life.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat


A POSTSCRIPT

It was in the late 70s. My wife, Linda and I, we’re on our first trip to New York.
We were in SoHo and at one point she went to go shopping and I to visit some art galleries. Years later she told me the story.
She was walking along the streets of SoHo when a young man stopped her, showed her some postcards, offering them for a $100 each.
She refused.

Years later we discovered the seller was Jean-Michel Basquiat.