Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American-based artist who achieved a large amount of success in the 1980s. Sadly, this inspiring Neo-Expressionist died young at the tender age of 27. However, he did manage to create work for the better part of a decade prior to his death.
Basquiat achieved notoriety early on as he started out life in SAMO, an iconic graffiti pair. The duo created epigrams in Manhattan right at the time where the rap and street-art culture was turning toward hip hop.
Not long after, in the early 80s, Basquiat was already showing his work in galleries throughout the world. In fact, at just 21 years old, he became the youngest artist to ever take part in Kassel. These impressive landmarks continued with Basquiatalso being the youngest artist to display work in the Whitney Biennial.
Themes in Basquiat’s work
Basquiat was interested in bringing to life the strange dichotomies that exist in our society. Many of his themes include themes such as wealth vs poverty, being integrated versus being segregated and even the differences between the inner and outer experiences.
Importantly, he used this platform as a way to be introspective about his own life, particularly relating to his own experiences within the Black community in the USA. He also made bold statements regarding power and the subsequent racial issues within the country, particularly pointing out issues of colonialism and class divides.
In order to create his works, Basquiat did not limit himself to any particular medium. In fact, he used painting and poetry in his work, carefully marrying both image and text into his work. Further to this, Basquiat also took historical information, combining it with his modern work to create his more contemporary ideas and critiques.
There are a number of top works from Basquiat that deserve special mention. Untitled (Skull) 1981 is a stunning work depicting an x-ray style head. 1981’s Irony of a Policeman shows a black man as a police offer, the idea of this being ironic to Basquiat in this time period. Other notable works include Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump (1982), Defacement (1983) and Hollywood Africans (1983).
After his death
Basquiat sadly died of overdosing on heroin. However, he was lucky in that his work was already being recognised within his lifetime. In recent years, his work has once again growing in popularity, steadily increasing in value. In fact, his painting Untitled (1982) sold for an impressive $110.5 million making it one of the most expensive paintings in the world.