FREE SHIPPING to UK for all unframed prints
Five Things You Should Know About | Jean-Michel Basquiat
Editorial / Artists

Five Things You Should Know About | Jean-Michel Basquiat

19 Jun 2023 | 4 min read

The break-out star of the 1980s New York art scene, Basquiat is still famous today. Find out more about the artist who helped revolutionise the market but died much too young.

He was a prolific note taker

Even Basquiat’s earliest works (street tags signed with the pseudonym SAMO in collaboration with his friend Al Diaz) were like little notes to self and, privately, the artist kept records of everything from shopping lists to poems. Back in 2015, an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum showcased his notebooks filled with sketches and musings. Sometimes written in Spanish or Haitian Creole, his scrawls are little windows into the artist’s preoccupations and interests, revealing hints at what shaped his work through the repetition of crowns, teepees and skeletons.

Basquiat's resume sold for £32,000 at a Sotheby's auction in 2013, with references to Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Williams.

Basquiat's resume sold for £32,000 at a Sotheby's auction in 2013, with references to Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Williams.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

He wasn’t just about the art

Basquiat quietly stole the show in the 1981 music video for Blondie’s Rapture, the first-ever to be shown on MTV. At that time, he may not have been a famous artist but he was very much on the scene. His band Gray was formed in 1979 and its work featured in the seminal film Downtown 81, in which Basquiat starred to rave reviews (while Harry cameo-ed). The duo have further links: in 1981, Basquiat is said to have made his first painting sale to Harry, for $200.

He was successful in life

Because of his premature death, drug addiction and the stories around him, it’s tempting to see Basquiat as a wholly tragic figure. However, the artist was a pioneer who was recognised during his lifetime for finding new ways to convey history and emotion in an original, uncontrived style and challenge the status quo. Untrained, Basquiat came from street art but arrived at something completely different – a blend of the urban and the painterly. Though some of the art establishment were snooty about him, (TIME magazine’s art critic Robert Hughes wrote an astonishingly snarky piece entitled ‘Requiem for a Featherweight’ a year after his death), some sources suggest that Basquiat had an estimated net worth of around $10 million when he passed away in 1988. “I would say that Jean-Michel had more raw talent as an artist than anyone I’ve ever met in my life,” the renowned dealer Jeffrey Deitch said shortly after his death.

“I would say that Jean-Michel had more raw talent as an artist than anyone I’ve ever met in my life,”

The renowned dealer Jeffrey Deitch said shortly after his death.

His pieces are in many high-profile collections

Basquiat has a strong celebrity following. As well as being in some of the best museum collections in the world – from The Whitney in New York to Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim – his work also belongs to several famous faces. Jay-Z, Leonardo di Caprio, Ellen de Generes, Johnny Depp and Bono are reportedly among those to own or have owned his work.

The couple feature in front of a long-unseen painting from Jean-Michel Basquiat titled Equals Pi for a Tiffany & Co. advert in 2021.

The couple feature in front of a long-unseen painting from Jean-Michel Basquiat titled Equals Pi for a Tiffany & Co. advert in 2021.

Mason Poole

He’s one of America’s most expensive artists

Pieces by Basquiat and his friend Andy Warhol vie for first place in the list of most expensive works by US artists. In 2017, Basquiat took the crown when his painting Untitled, 1982 sold for more than $100 million during a Sotheby’s auction. However, that was usurped by the 2022 sale of Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. Whether future sales will change their positions again remains to be seen but Basquiat is undoubtedly one of the 20th century’s most in-demand artists.

Basquiat's 1982 painting of a skull 'Untitled' was a record-breaking sale at Sotheby's New York in 2017 for $110,487,500.

Basquiat's 1982 painting of a skull 'Untitled' was a record-breaking sale at Sotheby's New York in 2017 for $110,487,500.

Sotheby's

Want your own Basquiat?

Want your own Basquiat?

Take a look at our available works.

Jean Michel-Basquiat

Hang-Up updates
Get our monthly collector briefing.