A celebration of African-American artists. Jean Michel Basquiat

July 11 2020

A celebration of African-American artists. Jean Michel Basquiat
A celebration of African-American artists. Jean Michel Basquiat

We at The Home Collection have decided to feature superb African-American artists on a monthly basis. In accordance with #blacklivesmatter, it is our privilege to celebrate, embrace, admire, and enjoy African artists who have made their mark on the world. We are hoping that this will encourage all to appreciate and be moved by those who have fought for what truly matters, and that is freedom, respect, human dignity, and liberty from racial prejudice. 

By enjoying the works of these incredible artists, we hope that it will encourage other artists to pursue their hopes and dreams, no matter what. 


The first artist that we would like to feature this month is Jean Michel Basquiat. Not only is this African-American artist an inspiration, but he fought racism through his art and even in society. 

One such work is called “Created Equal”. One person was quoted as saying about this specific piece that it was, “One of his more provocative paintings that tackles culture and race which is relevant even in society today. He was a genius, a revolutionary and an advocate for the advancement of African-Americans and Hispanic culture, not only in the art world but in society as a whole."


Would you like to know more about this revolutionary artist? Then keep reading as we celebrate Basquiat.


Early life 

Jean Michael Basquait was born in New York on the 22nd of December 1960. He was the second child of 4 siblings. Born to Gerard and Matilde Basquiat, he had a rich cultural heritage boasting Haitian and Puerto Rican descent from his parents. Basquiat’s mother instilled a love of art in her children from an early age. She would take Jean to art museums regularly, and even enrolled him as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum of art.


From an early age, Jean Michael showed signs of being gifted when it came to art. By the age of 4, he could already read and write. He was a prodigy. Life as a child wasn’t always easy, at the age of 7 he suffered a horrific accident where he suffered internal injuries. His mother was also in and out of mental institutions and therefore lived mostly with his father. Because of the instability and heartache in his family, he ran away from home at the age of 15. At the age of 17 he dropped out of school and was banished by his father from home. He earned a living by selling t-shirts and stayed with friends.

How would such a difficult childhood influence his art? And how did Jean Michael become a famous artist from such humble beginnings?


Early works and rise to fame

In 1976 Basquait and a friend of his began to paint graffiti art on buildings in Manhattan. They worked under a pseudonym called SAMO. In 1978 his graffiti was featured in a magazine called “The Village Voice'' Over the next few years Jean Michael appeared on TV shows and began a band named Gray, which was a “noise band”. This featured music that was similar to punk rock but had an experimental twist. Artists would use distorted sounds, minimalism, and industrial music. Basquait played in many venues including Arleen Schloss’s Wednesdays at A’s. Many musicians and artists were featured here. This is where Basquait showed off his SAMO art. 


In 1980 Jean Michael Basquiat met Andy Warhol at a restaurant; this was when Basquiat showed his works to Worhol. Andy Warhol was amazed by Basquaits’ pieces, saying that they were “mystically alluring”. It was in 1980 where Basquiat’s solo career began as an artist. His work was exhibited in many galleries, including one in Modena Italy.

Another interesting fact about Basquait is that he dated Madonna. This was before she was even famous. In 1986 his art was featured at the Mary Boone Gallery in Soho.


Despite his success, he suffered emotionally. He started to use heroin often, and many of his friends speculated that his climb to fame was the reason for his drug abuse. Friends also mentioned that the pressure to be a black artist in a white-dominated art world also caused severe stress. Sadly at the young age of 27, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose.


Many artists said that Basquait created a lifetime of works in such a short time. He truly was an inspiration to many.


What was his art about?

It’s interesting to see that Basquait highlighted many different themes in his art. From political issues, pop culture and even bible verses were scribbled into his works. His work was expressive and primarily featured prominent black figures, such as Charlie Parker. To Basquiat, these figures were heroes and saints, who deserved to be celebrated. Heads and skulls were also a prominent theme in his works. Many people who view these works are overwhelmed by the sense of power and raw expressionism. 

His art also spoke to people about racism and inequality, for example, his piece Irony of Negro Policeman showed how he believed African-Americans were controlled by predominantly white society. Basquiat wanted to portray that African-Americans had become complicit with the "institutionalized forms of whiteness and corrupt white regimes of power". 


The media which he used was mainly ink, felt tip, pencil, or markers. In his short career, he produced over 1500 drawings and 600 paintings. It’s incredible to think that someone who came from such hard circumstances, was able to make an unforgettable mark on society back in the ’80s and even still today. 


Jean Michael Basquait is a true inspiration to many artists around the world. His art has spoken to many, and he is an artist that will never be forgotten.