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Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat

*  1960 New York
† 1988 New York

The Afro-American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat began his artistic career with graffiti - original and comical combinations of letters and symbols with a poignant humour -, which he painted on house façades and the New York subway. He signed them with SAMO (Same Old Shit), a figure he invented to spread an alternative religion among the people. He was also a musician in a band, made drawings and assemblages of scrap and sold hand-painted postcards and T-shirts to earn a living after having quit high school and moved away from home. Basquiat's almost primeval works, which he began painting on canvas and paper during the 1980s, were very successful and the artist became famous overnight. At the age of 21 he was the youngest of 176 artists to be invited to exhibit at the documenta in Kassel in 1982. Exhibitions in Europe, Japan and the United States increased his international fame and his works were increasingly sought-after by critics, collectors and artists. Andy Warhol, a long-established colleague, not only became his most important sponsor, but also a close friend who worked and exhibited with Basquiat. The sign language, the grouping and combination of word columns, fragments of sentences and figurative motifs of Basquiat's works on ungrounded canvases and papers are an authentic and typical reflection of his environment and his time: New York in the 1980s. Basquiat died in 1988 at the age of 27 of an overdose of heroin. The life of the artist, who is today an icon of the subculture of the New York art world, was the subject of a film made in the middle of the 1990s.