Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. He first rose to prominence as a New York subway graffitist under the tag name SAMO. In 1978, he dropped out of high school shortly before graduation, and began his artistic life as a member of the East Village underground. By 1980, he was included in the seminal Times Square Art Show, a multi-artist exhibition that marked the break-through moment for Basquiat and his contemporaries. The artist rapidly became famous for his depictions of skeletal figures, mask-like faces and wordlists.
By 1982, Basquiat was seen as central to the Neo-Expressionist movement, one that included artists such as Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Francesco Clemente, in addition to the many other notable graffiti artists who also emerged at that time, such as Keith Haring. As Basquiat's career evolved, he turned to the creation of multi-panel canvases, paintings with exposed stretcher supports, while continuing to explore issues of racial identity. By 1983, he had exhibited at the Annina Nosei and Gagosian Galleries, ultimately being represented by the dealers Mary Boone and Bruno Bischofberger.
During his last years, Basquiat enjoyed a close friendship with Andy Warhol who attempted to act as mentor to the younger artist. As testimony to their friendship, they painted several collaborative works. It is likely that Warhol's death in 1987 served to intensify Basquiat's drug use.
Jean-Michel Basquiat has been the subject of numerous important retrospectives, among them The Whitney Museum, New York, 1992; The Museo de Arte Moderna, Sao Paulo, 1998; The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2000, and The Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2005. His paintings are included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica; The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The Beyeler Foundation, Basel, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Basquiat died August 12, 1988 after an accidental drug overdose.