Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat

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

Illustration by Anisa Makhoul

Illustration by Anisa Makhoul

Prodigy, Renaissance man, and pioneer of the arts, Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn to a Puerto Rican mother and Haitian-American father. As a teenager, he created buzz around Lower Manhattan with his avant-garde graffiti in poetic street art duo "SAMO." He dabbled in all aspects of the burgeoning post-punk arts scene, playing in noise band, "Gray," selling postcards on the street, making films, and attending gallery shows. He was broke after leaving home at 17, but quickly became a darling on the arts scene and began to show his work, selling his first painting to Debbie Harry for $200. Still unable to afford canvases, Basquiat made do with found surfaces such as doors and windows to paint on in his shared apartment.

He began to climb to superstar status, selling all of his displayed paintings opening night of many shows. His work's popularity amongst critics and non-critics alike quickly gained him publicity, although he was never fully comfortable with the way his work was discussed and how he was perceived in the art world.

"I don't listen to what art critics say. I don't know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is."

As such a unique emerging talent, the art scene didn't seem to quite know how to handle him. A black man was indeed a novelty in the stuffy white galleries where he would often show his work, and he found the word "primitive" used frequently to describe the paintings he so thoughtfully created. Ultimately, reaching the massive Art Star status that he did (only a few short years after sleeping on benches in Washington Square Park) proved quite jarring for both Basquiat and the art world.  His paintings dealt quite honestly and spiritedly with racial injustices, and were being snapped up largely by elite whites.

As a newly wealthy man, Basquiat hid money around his apartment, painted in expensive Armani suits and became increasingly dependent on heroin as an escape from the confusing celebrity that seemed to overwhelm him. Basquiat became very close with Andy Warhol, who provided him with a new quiet studio to live and work in and support when he was feeling alienated and taken advantage of. The two decided to collaborate on a show together, but it was panned by all the critics, who said that Warhol was fading in relevance and was merely taking advantage of Basquiat's youth, rising celebrity, and massive talent. They has a falling out after this and when Warhol suddenly passed before they had fully reconciled Basquiat was devastated. This seemed to exacerbate his already heavy drug use and deepen his depression and, at the age of 27, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose.

His greatest struggle as an artist was being seen as a a legitimate artist who happened to be black, rather than a "black artist." He felt disrespected and truly did not receive the recognition he deserved within his lifetime. Today, sales of Basquiat's work routinely break records, his latest selling in 2016 for $57.2 million.



"I choose Basquiat because I’ve always loved his work. He was a pioneer in bringing the punk & graffiti culture into international  art galleries. It’s unfortunate that we lost him so early. " -Anisa Makhoul


Over the past twenty years, Art Start has become an award-winning, nationally recognized model for using the creative arts to transform young, at-risk lives. Art Start kids live in city shelters, on the streets, are involved in court cases, or surviving with parents in crisis. Through Art Start’s daily creative arts workshops taking place inside some of the city’s loneliest places, at-risk youth collaborate with local teaching artists and educators who donate their time and guidance to nurture the youth’s creativity and talents.

Nina Simone

Nina Simone

Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson