Black Artist Spotlight: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat is known as a New York punk art and neo-expressionism artist. In the 1980s this form of art was very celebrated and commercialized. You may have heard his name rapped or sang in songs by Jay-Z, ASAP Rocky, Rick Ross, J Cole, Madonna, and more. 
Basquiat started off doing graffiti with Al Diaz, tagging ‘SAMO’ throughout Lower Manhattan (samo meaning same ol’). 

His artwork was expressive socially and culturally with his words, colors, and symbols. In the 1980s Basquiat collaborated with legendary artist Andy Warhol. Basquiat and Warhol made art history, one of their most famous collabs being “Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper)”. 

Jean and Andy’s famous, “Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper)”

From reading of Basquiat, my understanding of his art and life (although short) is that he was the voice of young Black men through his art and the timing of his artwork was symbolic to Hip-Hop. Like Hip-Hop, rising in the 1980s, Basquiat’s artwork was representation of a young person expressing their thoughts and feelings on what has been brought upon us as people, and what was being brought upon the people at that time. (Right: this painting makes me think of “hands up don’t shoot” and all of the black lives lost to police brutality-the skeleton being a black man already dead. Bellow: Basquiat paints the history of African-Americans.)

He states in this “State of the Art” video, “I think there are a lot of people that are neglected in art, I don’t know if it’s because of who made the paintings or what, but um [pause]…black people are never really portrayed realistically or I mean not even portrayed in modern art”. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a drug overdose in 1988 at the age of 27. Although gone too soon, his legacy lives on as one of the most influential artists, and not just as a neo-expressionism artist or even as a black artist…just as an artist in general. 
“I am not a black artist, I am an artist” –

Originally published 2/22/15

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