Jean-Michel Basquiat's transition from the subways to the chic galleries of Manhattan brought the artist into the company of New York's elite. Basquiat's subsequent success and rapid accent into the world of stardom coincided with the new cash of the roaring eighties that flooded the city, and it soon became apparent that he was unwilling and unable to deal with the temptations that his newfound stardom brought. In 1988, at the tragically young age of twenty-seven, the most successful black visual artist in history died from a heroin overdose.
In his short life, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a pop icon, cultural figure, graffiti artist, musician, and neo-expressionist painter. He was a prodigious child, and by the age of four, he could both read and write. By the time he was eleven, he was fluent in English, French, and Spanish. And when he was fifteen, he ran away from home, living for less than a week in Washington Square Park, after which he was arrested and sent back home to live with his father. He dropped out of school in tenth grade, after which his father kicked him out of the house, leaving the young artist to live with friends, supporting himself by selling T-shirts and homemade postcards.
In the 1970s Basquiat began to spray painting buildings in Lower Manhattan, using the pseudonym SAMO, earning him notoriety and a certain amount of fame. He appeared on television in 1979 on the show TV Party, and that same year formed a rock band called Gray, which performed all throughout New York. During this time, he also appeared in the music video Rapture by Blondie.
By 1982, he was regularly showing his work and had many high-profile friendships, including a brief relationship with Madonna, a brief involvement with the musician David Bowie, and long-time collaboration with the artist Andy Warhol. He worked on his paintings in $1,000 dollar Armani suits, in which he would appear in public, spattered in paint. He also appeared on the cover of New York Times Magazine in 1986.
Although he was a successful artist, Basquiat became addicted to heroin, and after the death of his friend Andy Warhol in 1987, his addiction became worse. He became increasingly isolated, and died of a heroin overdose in 1988. Posthumously, many exhibitions of his works have been held, and biopics, books, collections of poems and feature films have all been inspired by his work and life.
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