• LeAnn Benton

Artist Discussion: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Updated: Jun 26

Jean-Michel Basquiat

(1960–1988)


American Artist

· Graffiti

· Street Art


Jean-Michel Basquiat is considered to be one of the most influential African-American artists of the late twentieth century. Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, an American of Puerto Rican descent, encouraged his interest in art. He was enrolled in the Brooklyn Museum of Art (as a junior member) and when he was only seven, he began studying in a prestigious art school near his home.


Basquiat created highly expressionistic work that mixed graffiti and signs with the gestural and intuitive approach of Abstract Expressionist painting.



He made many highly stylized self-portraits that addressed his personal anxieties. His paintings also alluded to African American historical figures, including jazz musicians, sports personalities, and writers. Basquiat freely mixed themes from African, Caribbean, Aztec, and Hispanic cultures. He also mixed “high art” references with images from popular culture, especially cartoons.




Pez Dispenser, 1984

By regularly using the crown motif, the artist recognizes the majesty of his influencers and heroes, including artists, writers, groundbreaking athletes, and musicians.


Red Kings, 1981

On the left side is a self portrait of Basquiat. A lot of people believe that the figure on the right represents Pablo Picasso.


Trumpet, 1984




Beat Bop. Test Pressing, Version One, Volume One, 1983

– Front cover art of Basquiat’s independently released 12″ record on his own Tartown Records label.


World Crown, 1981

-Basquiat's boxing paintings, were created as the artist held admiration for particular boxing heroes, especially Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, as well as Joe Louis, Cassicus Clay, and Sugar Ray Robinson, among others.


While he was aware of his black roots and proud to express his personal views in his art, Basquiat wanted to be recognized as a great artist, regardless of skin color. His work did take on the themes of identity and oppression. His main subjects were often marginalized figures in society.


He once was quoted as saying:

“I am not a black artist, I am an artist…”

“I start a picture and I finish it.”

“My basic influence had probably been Peter Max.”

“I like kids’ work than work by real artists any day.”




Jean Michael Basquiat was influenced by so much in his life. These influences

included artists, writers, athletes and musicians. He also pulled quotes from menus, comic books, and textbooks. A medical encyclopedia exerted the most powerful influence on Basquiat as well. He became fascinated with anatomy which he showed in his later work.


In essence he melded his present-day experiences and knowledge of art history to create his own visual language



In 1988 Keith Haring, created a piece dedicated to his friend.

“A Pile of crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat.”













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