Becoming Jean-Michel Basquiat
An African-American painter in an art world dominated by whites, shakes off the graffiti label and becomes the first contemporary African-American artist to ascend to international fame.
By Hendrik Hansson @hendrikhansson
Manhattan museum visits with his mother and a junior membership to the Brooklyn Museum during his formative years shepherded Jean-Michel Basquiat towards his path of artistic success. His schoolteachers and mother Matilde noticed the child’s exceptional talent and nurtured his artistic abilities, forging a unique close bond between mother and son fastened by a passion for art. Shortly after his parent’s separation, Matilde was diagnosed with mental illness and was institutionalized. Basquiat moved in with his father. The teenager never fully recovered from the trauma of his parents’ separation and his mother’s subsequent illness, leading him to drop out of high school, alienated by his father’s disapproval Basquiat moved out and found shelter in abandoned buildings.
"Basquiat’s tags appeared remarkably close to SoHo’s art galleries, indicating that his ambitions lay closer to the galleries than the subway cars."
By 1979 Basquiat was involved in the New York graffiti scene, under his street moniker SAMO, coinciding conveniently with the nascent legitimacy of graffiti as part of a democratization of art. However, he was never truly accepted as a genuine member of the graffiti subculture by the city’s bona fide graffiti artists, and he certainly never intended to be.
"Amrita with her sister Indira (left), circa 1923 - Photo: Estate of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil/Photoink." ohnorobo
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