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Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child Who Took the Art World by Storm

Full Name Jean-Michel Basquiat
Age 27 years old at time of death
Birthday December 22, 1960
Death Date August 12, 1988
Birth Sign Capricorn
Born Brooklyn, New York, United States
Height 6' 0"
Net Worth $10 million

A Budding Artist in Brooklyn

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960 to a middle-class family. His Haitian father was an accountant and his Puerto Rican mother, Matilde Basquiat, worked as a seamstress. From an early age, Basquiat displayed a talent and passion for art. His mother, herself an artist, regularly brought the young Jean-Michel to art museums in Manhattan to nurture his interest.

At age 15, Basquiat ran away from home briefly before returning to finish high school. But at 17, his rebel spirit got the best of him and Basquiat dropped out of school for good. Leaving his family and middle-class background behind, he headed out on his own to become an artist. These early experiences of running away from home gave Basquiat a firsthand glimpse at living on the streets that would influence the subject matter of his later artwork.

Gaining Fame with SAMO Graffiti

In 1977, Basquiat and his school friend Al Diaz began spraying graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan. Working under the tag SAMO©, the duo‘s street art and poetic messages soon gained attention. Their ironic, mocking tone called out celebrities, the art world elite, and wider culture with dark humor. In December 1978, The Village Voice published an article about SAMO© graffiti that brought Basquiat further notice, referring to him as the "graffiti prophet." This first wave of fame as part of SAMO© launched Basquiat into the public eye.

Transition to Painting & Rise in the 1980s Art World

By 1980, Basquiat had broken from SAMO© and Al Diaz. Now painting under his own name, his work evolved beyond graffiti into a neo-expressionist style mixing primitive and avant-garde influences. Recurring symbols like crowns, skeletal figures, and masks featured heavily in his works laden with social commentary. Basquiat‘s raw, emotionally charged paintings also incorporated collaged text and imagery. His art quickly became a hot commodity as major collectors vied for his pieces.

Basquiat first gained international acclaim in 1982 when he was featured in Documenta 7. That same year, Annina Nosei sponsored his first solo exhibition in her gallery, which was a smash success. His second Nosei exhibition in 1983 sold out before it even opened. Over the course of the 1980s, Basquiat formed friendships with celebrities like David Bowie and appeared in magazines and museums worldwide. His anti-establishment persona earned him the epithet “the Radiant Child.” During this period, the prices his paintings commanded skyrocketed into the tens of thousands.

Collaborating with His Idol Andy Warhol

In the mid-1980s, Basquiat formed an artistic kinship with pop art pioneer Andy Warhol. Warhol had been Basquiat’s idol, and now the two collaborated creating joint works. This meeting of two brilliant but very different minds resulted in a series of semi-abstract paintings melding their respective styles. The duo also painted standing side-by-side, sharing ideas and techniques.

Their work culminated in a 1985 New York exhibition of around 100 collaborative pieces. Reviews were mixed – some viewed Basquiat as exploiting Warhol’s fame, others saw it as a clash between two creative giants. Though short-lived, Basquiat’s collaboration with Warhol linked these legendary artists forever in art history.

His Enduring Legacy

Jean-Michel Basquiat died tragically of a drug overdose in 1988 at only 27 years old. Though his star burned bright and brief, his legacy lives on through his revolutionary art. By meshing styles and cultures, he blazed a trail for future generations. The raw power and emotion of Basquiat’s work breaks boundaries to this day. He also opened doors as a young Black man in a predominantly white art world.

Today, Basquiat pieces rank among the world’s most expensive and coveted art. In 2017, his 1982 painting Untitled sold for a record-breaking $110.5 million to a Japanese billionaire. Collectors are entranced by the beauty and originality found in each Basquiat work. Over 30 years since his death, this brilliant "Radiant Child" still shines brightly.