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Adriana Královičová
October 31, 2022, 5:30pm
Reading time: 7:53

Jean-Michel Basquiat Overdosed On Heroin At The Age Of 27, Today Jay-Z Raps About Him And His Paintings Sell For Millions

He died at the age of 27, but his work managed to fundamentally influence culture. Do you know what his first street name was and which artist was said to be his platonic love? In the article, we bring you some interesting facts from his life.

Adriana Královičová
October 31, 2022, 5:30pm
Reading time: 7:53
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Jean-Michel Basquiat Overdosed On Heroin At The Age Of 27, Today Jay-Z Raps About Him And His Paintings Sell For Millions
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Does the name Jean-Michel Basquiat mean something to you? The American artist, one of the most important representatives of graffiti and neo-expressionism, significantly influenced not only the artistic world, but also the fashion and music world. Today, his works are incredibly valuable and continue to break records. Jay-Z raps about Basquiat, and has several of his paintings in his home.


He had a troubled childhood

He was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. The father came from Haiti and the mother had Puerto Rican roots. He had two younger sisters and an older brother.

His mother loved art and led Jean-Michel to it as well. From an early age, she took him to exhibitions in the most famous New York museums, so he had the opportunity to get to know the most important works of art. His talent showed itself at an early age, when he learned to write and read very quickly. He also started drawing early, mainly the cartoons he saw on TV. His parents therefore enrolled him in an art school.

The path to his dream of becoming a star was not easy for Basquiat. He didn't have a rosy childhood, his family went through problems, his mother ended up in a psychiatric hospital. After his parents' divorce, he was supposed to be entrusted to his father's care, but in a fit of emotion he ran away from home. He started experimenting with drugs and stopped going to school. He slept in the park on a bench, sold hand-painted T-shirts and postcards.

In his work, he used symbols and text to criticize capitalism, power, genocide, police brutality, poverty and much more. He wanted to be recognized as a great artist regardless of skin color.


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Convicted of vagrancy, new street name

Even though he was very intelligent and gifted, he could not attend a normal art school. By running away from home, he spent time on the streets, got in trouble with the police and was convicted of vagrancy several times. In the end, he was enrolled in a school with alternative teaching methods that were said to be more suitable for him.

During this period, Basquiat began to seek out drugs. He killed his days using them and drawing. At school he met a graffiti artist named Al Diaz. Thanks to him, he began to realize his artistic and writing skills more and more. They formed an artistic duo that signed themselves as SAMO.


They came up with the name together while smoking marijuana, supposedly smoking the "same old sh*t". They looked up to the SAMO label as a certain religion, according to which they only do what they want in the world and criticize everything they want.

This signature started appearing on graffiti along with a small copyright sign and immediately caught people's attention. The graffiti were colorful, hard-to-identify letters. The SAMO signature was simple, easy to remember and fun. According to Dazed Digital, his friend, also famous artist Keith Haring, said that Basquiat's graffiti was like poetry that stops people in their tracks and makes them think.

Al Diaz gradually began to lean more towards music, and the name Basquiat began to spread in art circles. SAMO's alter ego broke up and the collaboration ended with the signature SAMO IS DEAD under the painting.


Source: Getty Images/Cindy Ord/Staff


He sold his first painting for $200

In 1981, Basquiat sold his first painting, Cadillac Moon, to a musician friend, Debbie Harry, lead singer of the band Blondie. They met while filming Downtown 81, and Basquiat also participated in the music video for Rapture, one of Blondie's biggest hits.

At that time, he met the owner of the gallery, Annina Nosei, who began to support him in his career. Later, the debut exhibition The Times Square Show in New York followed. It can be said that this exhibition started his success.

The following year, he participated in the New York/New Wave exhibition at New York's MoMA PS1. Several of Basquiat's paintings were purchased by the Italian art dealer Emilio Mazzoli, who organized an exhibition for Basquiat at his gallery in Modena, Italy in 1981. Basquiat continued to exhibit in various galleries, many held in Los Angeles. When he returned to New York in 1983, he became the youngest artist to participate in the Whitney Biennial exhibition.


Crown as his moniker or a mysterious lover

Basquiat has been interested in logos since the founding of the SAMO signature. In the world of street artists, logos or signatures made a lot of sense, as they appeared on the streets of New York and people could identify them. Later he started using the now iconic crown symbol. It is one of his most important and well-known motifs and you will find it in many of his works. He became a symbol of pop culture.

However, many question marks hang over this symbol. He depicted it in his paintings, often on his head, which may have illustrated Basquiat's ambition, determination and perseverance to grow and gain respect in the art community. He never made a secret of the fact that he wanted to be a kind of young king of the art world. He is known to have looked up to African-American heroes and worshiped them as kings and saints with crowns and halos, the magazine said artshortlist.com.


With this crown, however, he could also appeal to the fact that a certain group of people is marginalized by society. According to himself, he belonged among them. The crown should have raised them to the same level. Artists who knew him say that Jean-Michel's three-pointed crown represents his three royal lineages: poet, musician and grand champion.

The crown emblem may also represent the history of his name Basquiat. He said he liked to research his family tree, which he allegedly fought against his family, which did not want to tell him anything about his ancestors. Interestingly, in the 16th century, the "de Basquiat" family, members of the French high nobility, allegedly lived in Landes.

Others speculate that the three-pointed crown stands for the letter W, which is supposed to symbolize Andy Warhol, Basquiat's close friend or even lover.


He was Andy Warhol's muse, Andy would never want sex with him


This mysterious union of two creative souls has fascinated the art world for decades. Although it was never confirmed what they had between them, they were very close. They spent a lot of time together, traveled, Warhol even visited his family. He was Basquiat's "mentor" and opened the door to the artistic cream of the crop. The story of their friendship is described not only in Andy's diary entries, but also through joint, intimate photographs.


Source: Getty Images/Rose Hartman/Contributor


As a street artist selling his drawings on T-shirts and postcards, Basquiat wanted more recognition within the art scene, so he began visiting Warhol's studio The Factory. At that time, it was a meeting place for everyone who meant something in the artistic sphere.

Until now, it is not known exactly where the pair met. One version says that Basquiat tried to sell Andy the postcards for one dollar. The second version tells of their first meeting at a dinner planned by the Swiss businessman and art collector Bruno Bischofberger.

Andy was known for taking pictures of everything on his Polaroid. Basquiat asked a friend to take a picture of them together. He asked for the photo and quickly ran home. Less than two hours later, he returned with a painted picture in which Andy and Jean-Michel were depicted as in the photo. Andy was amazed by his speed and saw potential in the young artist. They started working together, Andy trying to make sure Basquiat didn't take drugs.


Andy's diary was full of references to the young artist, calling him adorable and cute. However, Warhol reportedly stated that he would never have sex with him because he was "dirty". According to him, it was a purely platonic flare-up.

If you want to know more about Warhol's diaries and his relationship with Basquiat, watch the documentary Andy Warhol's Diary on Netflix.


He also dated Madonna

Warhol wasn't the only famous person Basquiat allegedly dated. He also had a short romance with the rising young star Madonna. Their relationship was short but passionate. They often attended wild parties. They met in 1982. As art-sheep.com magazine mentions, Madonna loved Basquiat, admired him for being able to get up at four in the morning and paint, thus transferring his feelings to the canvas. But she couldn't stand his heroin addiction. 


Great recognition came only after death

In the mid-1980s, he was earning $1.4 million a year. Despite his success, Basquiat struggled with mental health issues and became increasingly paranoid. A major turning point in his life came after the death of Andy Warhol in 1987. Basquiat remained lonely, struggling to cope with his newfound fame and the environment of the art industry. Basquiat was found overdosed on heroin on August 12, 1988 in his art studio on Great Jones Street in Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood. He was only 27 years old.


Source: Instagram/@yusaku2020


Over the years since the artist's death, the value of his works has steadily increased. Basquiat's paintings routinely sell for millions of dollars at auctions around the planet. Some of his works have entered the book of records several times.

Last year, his painting In This Case was auctioned by Sotheby's auction house. It sold for $93.1 million. This is the second most expensive auction of a Basquiat painting. The most expensive one took place in 2017, when Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa bought the Untitled painting for $110 million.


Jay-Z raps about him, his paintings are on T-shirts

During his prolific career, Basquiat created paintings, sculptures, worked on films and also devoted himself to music. He was a versatile artist. He was very close to hip-hop, often mixing elements of expressionism, pop art and his own beliefs.

As one of the few street graffiti artists of color, he made it from the street and subway to galleries and museums. His life story points to the deepening of long-standing racial differences, since at the time of his work, mainly white artists moved among the artistic cream.

Today, various rappers often mention Basquiat in their lyrics, most often Jay-Z, who captures the brilliance of the artist in the context of hip-hop. He bought Basquiat's painting Mecca for 4.5 million dollars. In the lyrics, Picasso Baby raps "It ain't hard to tell, I'm the new Jean-Michel", himself the new Jean-Michel of hip-hop.

In the next verse "Yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner / Go 'head, lean on that shit Blue, you own it" he raps about how he would allow his daughter Blue Ivy to destroy a yellow painting by Basquiat just because it simply belongs to her.


Source: Tiffany & Co.


In addition, together with his wife Beyonce, he posed in a campaign by Tiffany & Co. in front of Basquiat's painting. However, people close to Basquiat were not enthusiastic about the use of the artist's painting in advertising.


"Basquiat wouldn't even be allowed to go to the bathroom at Tiffany's," says Stephen Torton, the artist's former assistant, to Insider magazine. At the time when Basquiat was alive, no one really cared about his art and he was not respected because of his race. Torton also disagreed that the turquoise in his painting should have corresponded with the turquoise color typical of the Tiffany brand. The artist and his work are said to be completely misunderstood if they associate him with wealth.


Many others commented that Basquiat's name is too often misused for commercial purposes, something the artist himself would never agree to. You can find it on T-shirts, cups and other items. However, according to his relatives, the only place where we should see him is a museum.




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Thumbnail: Getty Images/Rose Hartman/Contributor Getty Images/Cindy Ord/Staff
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