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JeanMichel Basquiat Biography

Jean-Michel Basquiat

American painter, whose work first appeared as graffiti on the streets and subways of New York City. Basquiat was the most successful of a number of so-called street artists, whose work crossed over into New York City's gallery scene in the early 1980s. Basquiat’s art works mix imagery from African, Caribbean, European, and popular art.

The son of a Haitian father and a mother of Puerto Rican descent, Basquiat grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Basquiat had no formal art training beyond high school, but on his own he energetically explored a wide range of imagery and influences, ranging from comic books to Egyptian hieroglyphics, from the works of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso to children's art.

Basquiat was adored by the wealthy downtown art establishment, which promoted what it believed was primitive genius, though some critics believed he was exploited. New York artists such as Keith Haring and Kenny Sharf, both of whom were keenly interested in integrating so-called street art influences into their work, also admired Basquiat. In 1983 and 1984 Basquiat collaborated with American artist Andy Warhol and Italian artist Francesco Clemente on several paintings.

Initially feverishly productive, Basquiat grew increasingly undependable under the stresses of fame. Although he tried to overcome a heroin habit, he died of a drug overdose in his Manhattan loft when he was just 27.