Jean-Michel Basquiat: Black History Month


Tiffany Muthiaru, Media Staff

I’ve started out my black history month with two phenomenal women, Maya Angelou and Madam C.J Walker, that have made big impacts on both writing and business. Today, I will focus on the world of art, and recognize the brilliant and talented Jean-Michel Basquiat.  


Basquiat was known for his bold art along with his striking personality. He was fearless, creative, determined and a cultural icon to the black community.  His art is known around the world; Some would say he’s the face of contemporary art. Before this talented young artist rose to fame, he was a popular political-poetical graffiti artist that went by the name of SAMO. 


In 1977, he quit high school a year before graduation. To make ends meet, he sold sweatshirts and postcards featuring his artwork on the streets of his native New York. In his earlier works, Basquiat was known for using a crown motif, which was his way of celebrating Black people as majestic royalty. After 3 years of struggle, in 1980, he was featured in a group show. His work and style received critical acclaim for the symbols, stick figures, and animals. Soon after that show, his art became a huge success, the public adored him. They had no problem paying $50,000 for his original art. His art started a phenomenon; he started an uproar of new artists along with the Neo-Expressionism art movement. 


With all the fame and money he was earning, he was also battling a serious drug problem which started to become a concern with his friends and family. Despite leaving the heroin addiction behind, in 1988, he fled to Hawaii. He returned to his hometown a few months later claiming he was sober. Sadly, enough it was a lie, and he died of an overdose August 13 1988. He was only 27 years old. 


Basquiat has been credited with bringing the African American and Latino experience into the art world. After his death, Basquiat’s Untitled,” a 1982 painting of a skull, sold for $110.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction. The sale set a record for the highest price for a work by an American artist and for an artwork created after 1980. It was also the highest priced art by a black artist.   


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