• Men Objects

The Graffiti Art That Spoke Like a Poem that the City Writes to Itself.

No matter how much society tries to ignore these people, Jean-Michel Basquiat's incredible artwork emphasized those who never had their voices heard before - people from different cultures, races, religions, or genders.

Gifts for men, boyfriend, dad, husband, boss, college boys

All products featured on Men Objects are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life. - Jean-Michel Basquiat

The One Artist Who Managed to Blend Politics, Poetry, Graffiti, and Artistry in his Art

In an age of mass production, Jean-Michel Basquiat's work was a breath of fresh air. He wasn't an uneducated black from the ghetto with his graffitis. He was an intensely ambitious middle-class young man. Privately educated by his mother, he could read by the age of four. She took him to see modern art and he early on spent every minute drawing.

His work largely focused on race relations, power, and money but he was constantly getting inspired by multiple sources. He would paint while watching trash tv, reading, and listening to music (loved David Bowe and Miles Davis).

His artistic pursuit leads him into borrowing from writers, rappers, African art, jazz music, Picasso, from the daily news, and his own Haitian and Portorican heritage.

Combining words and images from pop culture to street life for commentaries on issues concerning race class history he also created striking but controlled paintings that were quickly lauded by critics as being accomplished in both spontaneity and skillful execution.

The art world was not colorblind. It was white-washed and Basquiat tackled this problem with his paintings, which depicted the black experience in America.

SAMO Early Years (1978-1980)

Photography of Jean-Michel Basquiat by Lee Jaffe
Photography by Lee Jaffe

In the 1970s, New York was a hotbed for music and culture. During this time period, when rap music was first being created and other prominent cultures were beginning to form. One famous artist who took part in this blossoming movement is Jean-Michel Basquiat.

In 1978, Basquiat would team up with Al Diaz old schoolmate in Lower East Side of Manhattan, and spark controversy using their acronym SAMO on all their graffitis. It meant something like the "Same old shit".

The duo earned its fame as artists because they were making graffiti that was thousands of times more sophisticated than anything anyone had seen before. While they were painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, they soon realized that the best graffiti had more to say than just a scribbled nickname or phone number; it was also an expression of who these people were as artists.

SAMO graffiti by Al Diaz in NYC
Al Diaz putting up a SAMO tag in NYC | Image from cherokeestreetgallery.com
JM Basquiat teenager in NYC
Late teenage years of Jean-Michel Basquiat | Image via Youtube

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a fascinating, revelatory artist who broke through the mainstream and elevated spray paint to new heights in his day. His paintings were largely responsible for elevating graffiti artists from mere vandals into genuine New York gallery scene contenders.

His art is a reflection of the life he led as an African-American man living in poverty.

His paintings often feature contrasting themes such as wealth versus poor, integration, and segregation within society at large. But also inner vs outer experience which comes from his own personal struggles with racism when going out into public places like stores or restaurants.

First Painting sold by Jean-Michel Basquiat

When he moved to the East Village because he was too poor to buy canvas he would paint on the walls, napkins, furniture, windows, and adorn any available surface. He would paint on postcards that he would sell on the streets for dollars. This is when he spotted Andy Warhol in a restaurant and introduced himself for the first time.

Fame & Recognition as a driving force

One of the driving forces behind his success is that, after being rejected by his father and not receiving any fame or recognition in life, he desired to be accepted. Fame gave him this acceptance with money, and a lot at that!

Madonna & Jean-Michel Basquiat dating

Madonna & Basquiat

Before she was famous Madonna had a short but passionate and influential relationship with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Hanging around her crowd in the Hollywood scene gave him a feel for recognition.

cadillac moon painting from Basquiat
Cadillac Moon, 1981 - Wikipedia.org

Cadillac Moon - 1981

Jean-Michel Basquiat's early success as an artist was established when he sold his first painting, Cadillac Moon (1981), for $200 to Debbie Harry of Blondie. His other paintings sold for $20K within one year. His output today has enabled him to be inducted into the million-dollar paintings hall of fame next to the Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Andy Warhol, and others.

Jean-Michel Basquiat "Hollywood Africans" 1983 painting
Hollywood Africans - 1983 (neo-expressionism style)

Hollywood Africans - 1983

While in Los Angeles, Basquiat painted Hollywood Africans (1983), which portrays himself with graffiti artists Toxic and Rammellzee. Basquiat often painted portraits of other graffiti artists—and sometimes collaborators.

Beat Bop (Instrumental) Single by Rammelizee and K-Bob - 1983

In a move that would make both artists proud, Jean-Michel Basquiat teamed up with 15 year old battle rapper K-Rob to create "Beat Bop."to record a session with Rammelizee for a 10 minute track. When released, it featured his art on the cover.

I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is. - Basquiat

The Basquiat–Warhol Collaboration (1984 to 1985) : A Match Made of Necessity

Basquiat met Warhol again in 1982, after being introduced by his agent. The collaboration began immediately after with Dos Cabezas , 1982 - but it's not accurate to say that the artist's career took off from then on; he had already achieved success as a talented artist before meeting up with Andy Warhol.

It was a match made outta necessity if you will because both needed something new: Warhol's' work was starting to get stagnant and needed a desperate breath of fresh iar while Basquiat neede access to the elite society.

Andy and Jean Michel at Indochine for dinner
following a Julian Schnabel exhibition opening,
November 2, 1984
Andy Warhol & JM Basquiat painting Problems
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Warhol on Basquiat
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Andy and Jean Michel painting Problems at Andy’s studio at 860 Broadway, March 27, 1984

After meeting Basquiat for the 2nd time in October, 182 "Warhol recalled that Basquiat "went home and within two hours a painting was back, still wet, of him and me together." The painting, Dos Cabezas (1982), ignited a friendship between them". - Wikipedia

Dos Cabezas - 1982

Dos Cabezas painting from JM Basquiat, 1982
Image from Wikipedia (neo-expressionism movement)

This partnership between these two great artists ended up creating some very influential artwork throughout society today like "Self Portrait With Birds" or even more jarring pieces such as 'Twenticvt (1962)'.

Series of Collaborations between Basquiat and Andy Warhol

Taxi, 45th/Broadway, 1984-85 sold for $9.4 million in November 1918

Zenith, 1985 titled after the electronics company, it sold for $11.4 million in 2014

Olympics, 1984 was a commemoration of the 1984 Olympics which later on sold for $10.5 million

Paramount, 1984-85 which married Warhol’s flat, commercial logos and Basquiat’s sociopolitical sarcastic figures.

Eiffel Tower, 1985

Mind Energy, 1985

Third Eye, 1985

Two Dogs, 1984

Poison, 1984

Ailing Ali in Fight for Life, 1984

$6.99, 1985

Dentures/Keep Frozen”, 1985 | Image (© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat)

Gallery of Collaborations Basquiat & Warhol

I had some money, I made the best paintings ever. I was completely reclusive, worked a lot, took a lot of drugs. I was awful to people. - Basquiat

Symbols and Saints - Recurring Themes in his Artistry

The artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is known for his portrayal of historically prominent black figures, who were identified as heroes and saints. His early works often featured the iconographic depiction of crowns or halos to distinguish these characters from others in a specially chosen pantheon.

The crown is a symbol of royalty in western art loaded with historical references. Basquiat used this imagery to challenge notions about race and power, as he saw it with 3-pointed crowns representing athletes, musicians but also writers. He liked to depict his contemporary heroes as saints and kings.

The Copyright sign as a symbol

Another symbol Jean-Michel Basquiat used was the Copyright sign. He used it as an ironic mechanism to control the art market and as a sign to control authorship. The copyright symbol © appears throughout his notebook texts and larger compositions as a gesture of reclaiming words for his own use, commenting on consumer culture.

Basquiat's admiration for Athletes - Another Reference Point in his Art

Jean-Michel Basquiat's drawings offer a powerful counterpoint to the image of an African American man threatened by racism, exclusion, and oppression. In opposition, he posed warriors and heroes.

Since I was seventeen I thought I might be a star. I'd think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix... I had a romantic feeling about how these people became famous. - Basquiat

painting "St. Joe Louis Surrounded Snake" from Basquiat
St. Joe Louis Surrounded Snake, 1982 | WikiArt
Painting called Boxer from JM Basquiat, 1981
Boxer, 1982 sold for $13.5 million in 2008 | WikiArt

painting "The Ring" by JM Basquiat, 1981
The Ring, 1981, sold for $15 million | PHILLIPS Auctions
Painting of Famous Negro Athletes by JM Basquiat
Famous Negra Atlhetes | WikiArt

Photography of JM Basquiat wearing a football helmet
JM Basquiat's Warrior | image from Christie's

helmet sculpture  by JM Basquiat, 1981
Helmet Sculpture, 1981 | WikiArt

The Anatomy - Tragedy Turned into Creativity

Basquiat's life was turned upside down when he was just 7 years old. He had been playing outside, and then all of sudden a car came speeding towards him without warning- it hit Basquiat so hard that his spleen had to be removed as well!

While recovering his mom thought it useful and educative to give him the book Grey's Anatomy which he rapidly memorized. The book became more than just chapters but a constant source of inspiration in his later artwork.

Basquiat painting Flesh and Spirit
Flesh and Spirit 1982-83 | Image from Sotheby's

In Back of the Neck, he penetrates us with his x-ray vision and presents a skeletal spine flanked on either side by two dismembered arms: one almost entirely clad in the flesh while another is flayed to muscle, stripped to sinew, and raised to expose the delicate armpit. One can't help but be struck by how vulnerable this work is, given its raw nature.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, BACK OF THE NECK, 1983, Silkscreen with hand painting.

I am not a black artist, I am an artist. - Basquiat

Famous Works & The Most Expensive Art Sold by Basquiatuia t

Basquiat is among the most highly valued artists in today's art market and his work regularly sells for tens of millions at auction.

Basquiat’s Untitled 1982 skull-like painting
“Untitled" 1982, features a giant skull-like painting sold for $110.5 million (May 2021) | Wikipedia Image
painting called "In This Case" 1983 by JM Basquiat
"In This Case" 1983 sold for $93.1 million (May 2021) | Image Wikipedia

Basquiat’s Untitled Devil, 1982
"Untitled (Devil) "1982 sold for $57.3 million (May 2016) - Wikipedia
painting called "versus medici" 1982 by JM Basquiat
"Versus Medici" 1982 sold for $50.8 million (May 2021) | Wikipedia Image

I wanted to be a star, not a gallery mascot. - Jean-Michel Basquiat

A Tragic End at 27 years old

A hard-working artist with an amazing rise to fame, 27-year-old Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988. The popular African American artist's brief yet impressive career was cut short after just 7 years due to the immense pressure he faced and resulted in over 2000 pieces, 600 drawings being created.

He will be remembered as being a dedicated artist to his craft just as Picasso or Michael Angelo were. He had a desperate need to create - "The more I paint the more I like everything." - Basquiat

The raw and brutal work of Jean-Michel Basquiat is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. Initiatives like the Black Lives Matter Movement are just but another form of meaningful expression in 2021. He never compromised his message to reach a certain goal, which made him one of the most famous artists in American history.

There was a symbiosis between Basquiat's life and art. That goes for his passion, charisma, talent, and his unfortunate ending. His work is in museums around the world and continues to have an impact on art history.

The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn't see many paintings with black people in them. - Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat 15 min Biography - Great Art Explained

Hip-Hop Sound that Emerged the Post-Graffiti Era

From jazz, punk, and rap to funk, pop, and beyond, this playlist—created by “Writing the Future” co-curator Greg Tate—features music that inspired and came out of New York’s post-graffiti era.


Similar Graffiti Street-Style Artists

Robert Del Naja, also known as 3D is a British artist, musician, and singer. He emerged as a graffiti artist and member of the Bristol collective The Wild Bunch before founding the band Massive Attack.

By Robert Del Naja - Wikipedia
Del Naja covert art 2009
Del Naja covert art 2009 | Wikipedia

Bansky - A Mix of Street-Fighting Passion and Pacifist Ardor

Bansky is a famous English street artist who produces a wide range of artwork, including political and social commentary. His real name is still unknown to the public but he's been active since at least the 1990s with his signature style being satirical stenciling on walls in addition to other forms like paintings or drawings.

Graffiti of Banksy in Bristol
Naked Man image by Banksy, on the wall of a sexual clinic in Bristol | Wikipedia
No Lotering painting by Banksy
No Loitering, 2008 | image from WikiArt.org

Graffiti by Banksy on the West Bank barrier
Graffiti by Banksy on the West Bank barrier | Wikipedia

Bansky graffiti called The "Grin Reaper"
The "Grin Reaper" By Szater - Wikipedia

Bansky graffiti SHop until you drop in Mayfair
"Shop Until You Drop in Mayfair" | Image by QuentinUK - Wikipedia

Banksy’s Unofficial Collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Banksy’s Unofficial Collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Via: Banksy.co.uk

Shop Street Art Reproductions That Make a Statement