The Rise of Andy Basquiat
After being hit by a car at age eight, Basquiat sought treatment for his injured spleen and became fascinated by Gray’s Anatomy; its sinewy bio-mechanical images would later become his trademark.
He approached history like an anatomical specimen, viewing it as something to be dissected and reconfigured to better suit our needs. This approach can be seen through his depictions of feet and body parts.
Early Life and Education
Basquiat emerged into fame despite being young during the 1980s. His work is dynamic and politically provocative, often featuring references to Black culture or great painters he admired such as Degas or Picasso. Gray’s Anatomy (a gift from his mother) frequently served as his source for anatomical drawings used in his compositions.
He began his career by writing humorous maxims and jokes in marker on subway trains and other locations throughout New York City under the name SAMO. Later, he met Pop artist Andy Warhol whose association catapulted his stardom further. Today, his work is considered cultural icon with his image being used to promote products from skis to hoodies to candles and Uno cards.
Basquiat rose rapidly through the ranks of New York art world in just a few short years. He first gained recognition as an artist during the late 1970s when known as SAMO (an anagram for “same old shit”) as part of a street art duo with Al Diaz who spread cryptic epigrams across New York City streets.
He rapidly established himself as a painter and became one of the youngest artists ever invited to Documenta in Kassel, Germany. His works effortlessly blended Black culture – particularly music – with modernist concerns and strategies.
He was an advocate of forging one’s own path. Unfortunately, however, his legacy has been reduced by the commercial exploitation of his works on skis, hoodies, Uno cards and jewelry items that dilute their meaning by way of mass marketing strategies.
Achievement and Honors
Basquiat first gained significant recognition following his participation in the legendary 1980 Times Square Show, then through a solo exhibition held at Annina Nosei Gallery and featured by Rene Ricard in Artforum cover story. These events only helped boost his profile even further.
Basquiat’s work represented an intersection of uptown graffiti and downtown punk culture, as well as being at the vanguard of an art world shift toward Neo-Expressionist painting versus more formal Minimalism or Conceptualism.
Some of his paintings have become some of the most highly valued works in contemporary art, with a Japanese billionaire purchasing Untitled (Devil). His work still resonates today due to its iconic imagery and formal strengths in terms of color, composition and drawing.
Basquiat rose quickly in the art world despite coming from a modest background, becoming famous after meeting Andy Warhol and participating in his Times Square Show that same year.
Basquiat’s art was both playful and profoundly political, exploring dichotomies of wealth and poverty, integration versus segregation, inner vs outer experience through poetry, drawing, abstraction, figuration and historical knowledge mixed with contemporary criticism. His pieces combined poetry, drawing, abstraction and figuration as tools of analysis.
His paintings often explored music, particularly jazz. Beginning in 1982, he started creating paintings devoted to jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie–not just as figures but through references like album covers or discographies. In addition, Gray played noise music under this name (likely as a play on Gray’s Anatomy). Furthermore, many of his pieces frequently addressed issues related to racial exploitation or violence.
At the time of his death, Basquiat’s work was already highly valued; since then it has only increased in value – two of his paintings have sold for over $100 million each and his legacy continues to drive art sales today.
His works challenged the boundaries between art and street culture, inspiring an entire generation of creators. His innovative blend of hip-hop culture with streetwear was influential on contemporary artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy.
Basquiat rose quickly through the ranks of art world superstars during his short life. He famously dated Madonna (repossessing and repainting works she gifted him), was featured in New York Times Magazine covers, and even had one commissioned by them!