Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was a Haitian American artist. He gained popularity first as a graffiti artist in New York City, and then as a successful 1980s-era Neo-expressionist artist. Basquiat's paintings continue to influence modern-day artists and command high prices.
Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, Matilde, was Puerto Rican and his father, Gerard Basquiat is of Haitian origin and a former Haitian Minister of the Interior. Because of his parents' nationalities, Basquiat was fluent in French, Spanish, and English from an early age. He read in these languages, including Symbolist poetry, mythology, and history. At an early age, Basquiat displayed an aptitude for art and was encouraged by his mother to draw, paint and to participate in other art-related activities. In 1977, when he was 17, Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz started spray-painting graffiti art on buildings in lower Manhattan, adding the infamous signature of "SAMO" (i.e., "same old shit") see: SAMO© Graffiti entry. The graphics were pithy messages such as "Plush safe he think.. SAMO" and "SAMO as an escape clause". In December 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the writings. The SAMO project ended with the epitaph "SAMO IS DEAD" written on the walls of SoHo buildings.
Basquiat attended high school in New York at "City As School", the same place where he was friends with Al Diaz, and Shanon Dawson (later of the downtown funk band Konk). In 1978, Basquiat dropped out of high school and left home, a year before graduating. He moved into the city and lived with friends, surviving by selling T-shirts and postcards on the street, and working in the Unique Clothing Warehouse on Broadway. By 1979, however, Basquiat had gained a certain celebrity status amidst the thriving art scene of Manhattan's East Village through his regular appearances on Glenn O'Brien's live public-access cable show, TV Party. In the late 1970s, Basquiat formed a band called Gray (the name being a reference to the book Gray's Anatomy), with Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Nick Taylor & Wayne Clifford. Gray played at clubs such as Max's Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrahs, and the Mudd Club. Basquiat worked in a film Downtown 81 (a.k.a New York Beat) which featured some of Gray's rare recordings on its soundtrack. He also appeared in Blondie's video "Rapture" as a replacement for DJ Grandmaster Flash when he was a no-show.