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12 Facts you should know about Jean-Michel Basquiat
A closer look 09 Mar 2018

12 Facts you should 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.  

skull by basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981


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.

basquiat portrait
Portrait of Basquiat


Jean-Michel Basquiat lived in Larry Gagosian’s home 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


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


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
Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat


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


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


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


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

Documenta 7
Documenta 7 poster


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


In the early 80s, Basquiat was not affiliated to 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


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

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Basquiat with Blondie


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. He 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
Jean-Michel Basquiat Short Film

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