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12 Things to Know About Jean-Michel Basquiat
A closer look 09 Mar 2018

12 Things to Know About Jean-Michel Basquiat

Who is Jean-Michel Basquiat? This mysterious character of the 80’s contemporary art scene continues to fascinate us. His art, both raw and naïve and full of street art influences, continues to inspire numerous artists today. Artsper has selected twelve facts you should know about the artist who had a very short but very eventful life.  

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981

1. He supported himself from a young age

At seventeen years old, Jean-Michel Basquiat left his parents’ home in Brooklyn to live in Lower Manhattan. He managed to survive by crashing at friends’ places temporarily, or living in the streets with winos and druggies. He supported himself by selling t-shirts and homemade postcards.

Portrait of a Young Basquiat
Portrait of a young Basquiat

2. He lived with American art dealer Larry Gagosian

Jean-Michel Basquiat lived in American art dealer Larry Gagosian’s home in Los Angeles, California for a year. He worked in a basement type space. His paintings were exhibited in the West Hollywood Gagosian gallery. He was in a relationship with Madonna at the time, and she lived with them for a couple of months.

Madonna and Jean-Michel Basquiat
Madonna and Jean-Michel Basquiat

3. He spoke several languages

By the age of eleven, Jean-Michel Basquiat spoke three languages: English, French and Spanish. His mother was Puerto Rican and father Haitian and both spoke to him in their native tongue.

Basquiat as a child at his parents'
Basquiat and family at his childhood home

4. He was criticized by media for his youth

The TIME art critic Robert Hughes said about Basquiat that he was the “Eddie Murphy of the art world,” and that what people like about him was his “young, loud… invincibly dumb” persona. He also said of Basquiat’s close friend Keith Haring that he was nothing but a “disco decorator”.

Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat
ean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring

5. He was hit by a car at 7 years old

When he was a kid, he was hit by a car causing very serious internal injuries. To distract him while he was at the hospital, his mother gave him a medical book, Gray’s Anatomy, which later inspired the name of his band Gray. More importantly, this book was a major reference in his artistic work as his style was defined by the symbols and imagery of the anatomical language.

Anatomy Book
Anatomy served as an inspiration for Basquiat

6. He was the member of a rock band

Basquiat had a noise rock band named Gray. He also produced a hip hop record called “Beat Bop” featuring K-Rob and Rammellzee. Basquiat designed the cover of the single, which appealed to both art and record collectors.

Beat album's cover
Beat Bop album’s cover

7. He often visited the Brooklyn Museum as a child

Jean-Michel Basquiat was probably one of the youngest members of his favorite museum, Brooklyn Museum. His mother often took him to art museums in Manhattan when he was still young and encouraged his artistic talent.

Brooklyn Museum of Art
Brooklyn Museum of Art

8. He was the youngest exhibited artist in a German museum at 21 years old

At only 21, Basquiat was the youngest artist to be exhibited at the Documenta VII in Kassel, Germany.

Documenta 7
Documenta 7 poster

9. His work was rejected by very established museums

Both the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art rejected Basquiat’s work.

Jean-Michel Basquiat portrait
Jean-Michel Basquiat portrait

10. He did not use a traditional bank

In the early 80s, Basquiat was not affiliated with any bank and refused to have a bank account. He kept all of his money in his loft, hidden under rugs, between cushions of his sofas and in books.

Basquiat in his loft
Basquiat in his loft

11. He was featured in Blondie’s music video “Rapture”

He appeared in Blondie’s music video “Rapture”. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein bought Basquiat’s first painting for $200.

Basquiat with Blondie
Basquiat with Blondie

12. He once went by the alias “Samo”

He started out as a graffiti artist and used the nickname “Samo” (which stands for Same Old Sh*t) with friend and collaborator Al Diaz. Basquiat would strategically place his art near galleries and museums and where artists hung out in order to make a name for himself. In 1978, the magazine Village Voice congratulated him for getting noticed this way.

Jean-Michel Basquiat Short Film