Jean-Michel Basquiat: His Impact on Society

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Biography of Jean-Michael Basquiat
  • Life as SAMO
  • Death of Michael Stewart and Jean-Michael Basquiat’s Response to Police Brutality
  • Jean-Michael Basquiat's Impact on the Fashion Society and Music
  • Andy Warhol Collaboration and Friendship
  • Jean-Michael Basquiat’s Death
  • Conclusion


I have decided to break down my essay into sections of subheadings of vital famous events in Basquiat’s lifetime that impacted the public and society. For example, I included his early life as SAMO and stand to police brutality etc.

Biography of Jean-Michael Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a neo-expressionist artist during the 1970s to the late 1980s era in which his artwork spread through New York like a storm. His capacity to function from his vision of society became somewhat like an oracle for painting. Even to this day, racial discrimination is still a quandary, violence still occurs and judgment upon others has caused psychological pain to many patents. People with scandalous deportment abusing the potency they receive and indoctrinating the inculpable is what drives the world in constant corruption. Jean-Michel Basquiat tried to implode this knowledge through art where he constantly produced mass paintings and style is his attempt at using the time he had to highlight the importance of everything around us. But also coming to the point of instability where the tension and pressure of this mass realization led to overmedication and drug use hence leading to death. But his statement has created a mark in history where a refined few can understand the real meaning behind his mind and art. Here, I am here to talk about his importance and impact on society as a figure/painter.

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Life as SAMO

During the early 1970s, graffiti was an uprising medium where many artists used this style as a means to express one’s self-profile. Al Diaz, a fledged member of the graffiti movement begun to create this type of art at the age of twelve on trains and buses, his tag being ‘Bomb1’, reflecting the trend of text and number formats during that style era. He grew an interest in exploring the graffiti world for the sole purpose of recognition and becoming someone that people knew - an identity. Al Diaz then became to meet Basquiat during high school and joined forces to create the world-famous graffiti duo tag ‘SAMO’ that we know today.

Diaz shows us through a few interviews that they visited museums and graffitied epigrams around lower Manhattan. Most of these pieces of art consisted of small phrases and ideological thoughts that the two were currently meditating on, showing that the art created was not merely for aesthetic purposes but with deeper meaning. The actual name ‘SAMO’ also reflects this as it is an abbreviation of ‘same old’ which was a phrase commonly used by the two artists when describing their lives.

By 1978, SAMO had begun to appear on walls across the city. Basquiat is trilingual in English, Spanish and French he became to employ actual text or just simple words within his art. This was the same for Diaz. This led to the oracle-like messages scattered across the city, spreading philosophical thought and ideas for the people of the city. The identity of SAMO kept anonymous until it was unveiled by Glenn O’Brien’s off-the-wall TV show where Basquiat alone stated as himself as SAMO, which lead to conflict and concluded in the separation of Al Diaz and Basquiat after two years of their work together. Diaz eventually took a different direction towards making music while Basquiat continued his unique art, garnering friendship with the art crowd such as the famous Keith Haring.

As he began his solo career, he moved on from the graffiti style and signing his artwork with the tag ‘SAMO’ but now as Jean-Michel Basquiat, leaving that stage in life behind him in order to progress his artwork and self-image. Although Basquiat’s influence on the people of New York under the name SAMO was phenomenal, his new style of graffiti is what brought neo-expression into mainstream art, worthy of recognition by curators, critics, and major galleries, encouraging graffiti to become a true art form, rather than just pointless doodles made by delinquents.

Death of Michael Stewart and Jean-Michael Basquiat’s Response to Police Brutality

In 1983, Michael Stewart, a black graffiti artist was seized graffiti tagging at Avenue station in Brooklyn where a transit police officer John Kostich, arrested Stewart. Kostich opposed proclaiming that Stewart resisted and became violent. Stewart was beaten unconscious and tied around the joints with zip ties. Stewart was only 25 years of age when he was found spraying near the student accommodations of Parsons School of Design. It was quoted that Stewart was witnessed constantly shouting “What did I do? What did I do?” as he was being brutally beaten in the streets at 3 am.

Stewart was then promptly sent to Bellevue hospital and his family were informed that he was physically braindead and had hemorrhaged due to strangling or choking. Michael Stewart sadly passed away 13 days after the arrest in a coma. All eleven police officers involved were acquitted and found not guilty by a white American jury, infuriating Stewarts family and the African-American community. The case has never been rightfully concluded to show that the police officers were, in fact, guilty of beating Stewart when he had not deserved so.

Despite the Civil Rights Act having been passed in 1964, unlawful police brutality against the black community in America was still rife even 20 years later. Basquiat was veritably distressed by this event, leading him to paint ‘Defacement’ (The Death of Michael Stewart). Having been a close friend of Michael Stewart’s, Basquiat was influenced to take a darker turn in his art, producing pieces that reflected his current thoughts on the constant events of this brutality. The painting had been owned privately for most of its existence but is now open for public viewing at the WCMA. Since the piece was painted to show the painter’s thoughts on the evident police brutality, the reason as to why it has been made open for viewing could be interpreted as having Basquiat’s discourse accessible for all to see, understand, and perhaps to become influenced to stand against it with him.

Besides the public, other artists were moved by Basquiat’s responsive art. Originally painted in Keith Haring’s studio in the East Village, ‘Defacement’ held such an enormous amount of importance to Haring, that he kept it hung above his bed until his death in 1990. For Basquiat’s artwork to be recognised by and to be held to such high critique showed his major capacity to have such an effect on other significant artists as well as the public is something to be acknowledged.

Basquiat’s influence on racial oppression carries on even today in 2018 where movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ still fight on to end the likes of police brutality. Despite being more than thirty years on from ‘Defacement’ being first painted, racism still seems to be a constant issue in society and this is what makes Basquiat’s work as notable as it was before in today’s light of recent social events.

Chaédria LaBouvier is one individual who was so affected by violence against the black community that she and her mother founded the organisation ‘Mothers Against Police Brutality’ which financially and emotionally aids parents that have lost their children to unjustifiable brutality. In a few interviews with I-D and Dazed magazine, LaBouvier shares that her personal discovery of Basquiat and his painting ‘Defacement’ really drove her to study into the history of the racist crimes and influenced her to use these art forms to push the deeper meaning onto the public, garnering more attention for her cause.

Jean-Michael Basquiat's Impact on the Fashion Society and Music

He is widely celebrated as one of the most influential artists, often including of his own heritage and experiences within his pieces. Also having dated Madonna shortly and collaborating with Andy Warhol, Basquiat certainly knew how to make himself known. During his lifetime and more after death. Basquiat being an icon he also modeled for a fashion brand Comme des Garçons (CDG) in 1981 at the era of over-the-top ideas. The collection supposedly ended all and overthrew other styles providing the characterised dark visional pieces. Rei Kawabuko a Japanese founder and designer of CDG she has now become a well-known brand over the years. Although Basquiat never officially worked as a model he once did a magazine cover and runway show. He appeared on CDGs show spring/summer 1987 collection – Sporting a linen grey suit with a pearl white shirt and matching bowtie, similar to the style that he himself dressed. He also appeared on a magazine cover few years before on the New York Times Magazine, with the headline of “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist”. Although featuring more as an artist, not a model Basquiat still posed in a model manner with a Giorgio Armani suit with bare feet.

Fashion also not only found its way to Basquiat but also the way around where his paintings were featured on clothes and products on numerous occasions. From example Supreme and Uniqlo etc. releasing a Basquiat dedicated range, as Basquiat went from painting on stolen doors and walls he never reached the clothing industry, but clothing found a way to him.

Having been a style icon each always had a signature style, dress code for themselves. Basquiat’s consisted of Armani suits and white shirts from modeling in for photo shoots to painting and splatting paint on them. Also, strangely known to paint over the suits with his choice.

Having spending time with artists like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol he started to realise that the importance of an artist’s style and lifestyle was key. He rose to fame during a time where the artist took the role of a celebrity where his signature style took place with suits and a distinctive fit like actors and musicians would. His fashion impacted the world of designers and musicians where

Basquiat was partially in a band known as Gray during the SAMO to Basquiat era, he played the clarinet and produced songs that he enjoyed playing with friends. He never was never really innovative with music, but his style and image of a band and fashion are what introduced a sense of form to others.

Andy Warhol Collaboration and Friendship

Jean-Michel Basquiat began to collaborate with many artists during the 1980s, for example, Keith Haring and later on, with the most iconic, ‘father of pop art’, Andy Warhol. Apparently earlier on before they had already met in terms of collaborating, Basquiat claimed that he had met and sold two of his xerox postcards to Warhol in a restaurant. Their official meeting was brought together by Bruno Bischofberger, an art dealer at lunch where an apparent polaroid photo was taken of Basquiat and Warhol together where Basquiat rushed after lunch suddenly to bring back a wet painting self-portrait of the photo within three hours known as ‘Dos Cabezas’ today.

The beginning of their collaborative work grew as they created a close relationship – nicknamed a ‘bromance’ - as they both completed each other’s artistic needs. While Basquiat wished for Warhol’s fame, Warhol wished for Basquiat’s new image and style. Interviews and information from friends of Basquiat and Warhol confirmed that they were incredibly close where Warhol had a parental type role model towards Basquiat and deeply cared for him as of his artwork.

During the time of actual production of their artwork, Basquiat was held at a point in his life in which his style wasn’t quite considered of a high standard like Andy Warhol although he had exhibited his work at Anina Nosei and Tony Shafrazi galleries who were well-known people in the artistic circle of New York. He was declined of many art exhibitions as at the time, the trend was monochromatic, minimal art pieces, which deeply contrast Basquiat’s loud and controversial art style. As his style was seen as quite alien in comparison to what the public had been so used to seeing, Basquiat has pushed away from reaching the full potential and recognition that he has today. However, to reach this level at the best that he could, he used the help of Warhol’s profile in order to achieve this. As he started to do collaborative pieces with the leading pop artist, galleries and the public started to warm to his style as it was reminiscent of Warhol’s own which they were already so used to seeing. And with this iconic collaboration begun the neo-expressionism era.

Once Basquiat grew to become a household name within the arts community, Warhol was accused of using Basquiat as he grew in fame to remain at the point where he struggled in his own work. The press had pressured Basquiat to believe or not splitting the pair's friendship where Basquiat left New York sad and depressed vacating to Hawaii for a while. As little time passed Andy Warhol passed from a gall bladder surgery in 1987 where Basquiat had an insane attack where he believed to be the cause and led to a break in the state of mind leading to a drug habit spiraling out of control. As he tried to separate from the heroine escaping to Hawaii he sadly passed a 27 in his studio from an overdose. The tragedy of his earlier death catapulted him towards an art royalty status among with the greats.

Andy Warhol’s hugely worldwide famous pop art influenced everyone. He repetitively screen-printed Marilyn Monroe in different neon colours and his signature Campbell’s soup can. He had the world on a string and Basquiat tried to attain a fraction of his popularity for himself to grow and become great like him, but he was known now to be ahead of his time and so advanced in expressionism with his work at a time of minimalistic subtle art. Andy Warhol was famous for being the creator of bright colours and prints but Basquiat was another level that Warhol admired and sought of him as the future of modern art. His crude paintings and sketchy style are what brought Warhol to collaborate with Basquiat believing him as a new once a generation artist. But as they both powered through with their collaborative works their first project “Paintings” was a flop. Until their exhibition at Tseng Kwong Chi where their famous picture was taken of themselves posed under their work caught the news of the world. The whole world was impressed to see such a gallery the press appeared and obviously causing some pressure upon the two Warhol and Basquiat of using each other for their selfish needs. The fact that their work had reached the world and affected the press to telegraph means they inspired the public and society of their work and hitting the artist society with a bomb of expressionism.

Jean-Michael Basquiat’s Death

Basquiat’s death was a sad event during the late 1980s, his artwork was always misread to be lower class lacking the style of a high standard. His artwork now sells for hundreds of millions of dollars recently selling a piece named as ‘skull’ to a Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawafor $110.5million becoming the most expensive artwork sold ever by an American artist. He has totally impacted the artist society and fashion society and all public together through police brutality, fashion, and collaborations. As an African American artist, his ethnicity has inspired many artists to express oneself and pursue their dreams of acting as a figure, role model an African artist under this discrimination which still exists to this day.


All in all, I sectioned up the key events that took part in socially moving the world, within a short lifetime of 27 years. Basquiat was known around the city and into the world constantly after his success with the SAMO tag where his future set up changes in humanity.

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