Jean Michel Basquiat, with a name like that how can you not be an artist? Basquiat was born to a Haitian-American father and a Peurto Rican mother in 1960. He came into a world where he was acutely aware of his heritage being viewed as different to the mainstream art world. He played on this curiosity and turned it into an advantage. Basquiat was the first black artist to become an international art star.
Basquiat was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Art was all around him and from a young age his mother Matilde encouraged her son to explore and appreciate all that was to be had in this scene. She would take him to art shows, she supplied him with books on anatomy to mimic the study habits of the early masters and she even enrolled him as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum when he was just six years old.
Basquiat had a close relationship with his mother and took to all of the encouragement. He held a deep interest and passion for the fine art world and all that it entailed. Successful fine art teaches one to question all that life is formed of, to look at things, even the smallest things, from different angles. It is, in truth, a sort of rebellion. A rebellion against the standard.
When Basquiat was seventeen he dropped out of school and struck out on his own, sleeping in Washington Square Park and abandoned buildings at first. He started spending his time with friends who later became known in the art world as well. Basquiat and his friends began spray painting walls and alley ways with statements signed under the name SAMO. The name SAMO was used to sell fake religion, created as a “tool for mocking bogusness,” according to Basquiat.
Basquiat had begun his legacy in the art world at this time. He became an underground sensation. The graffiti he created around the city was being noticed. Even when he turned to the paintbrush this habit translated throughout his works. Basquiat was young and reckless and had an insatiable hunger for the creative world. He spent time around the right people and was eventually noticed. He unfortunately began a habit of drug consumption at this time as well. A habit that would result in his death ten years later at the age of twenty-seven.
By the time Basquiat was twenty-one he was selling paintings and having exclusive shows. His art displayed bright colors and expressive brush stokes. Basquiat was known for his use of crowns and halos in his paintings. He often put them over a figures head who he would then label with the name of a personal hero, or he would name the painting after them. He has been said to have continued the work of Picasso or Matisse when they began imitating African Art in their works. The art world claimed that Basquiat drew upon his own cultural heritage to create the real thing. However, Basquiat was raised in New York by an upper middle class family, that is what his personal background consisted of.
This is an example of how Basquiat could take the art viewers preconception of his ethnicity and use it to his advantage. On the other hand I can also imagine how this could have been an obstacle for him as well. Being misunderstood does not commonly invoke a warm feeling, but it may be used as a driving factor for some forms of expression. The need to share and express your true inner person, with a lack of skin color. Perhaps in an attempt to relate to the people and world around you or to make sense of it in some way. I believe that Basquiat was just painting from his human heritage. Which is truly interesting enough in itself, or in my opinion, more interesting.