Dmitri Kasterine (born 1932)
Gelatin silver print, 1986
In a prolific yet short-lived career, Jean-Michel Basquiat became a leading figure in the 1980s art world. Having run away from home as a teenager, he supported himself initially by selling homemade postcards and sweatshirts on the street. He emerged as an underground celebrity in 1978, when he and a friend began spray-painting cryptic social messages and the tag SAMO (short for “Same Old Shit”) all over Lower Manhattan. Working in a graffiti style, he moved into producing artworks that combined expressively drawn elements like figures and skulls with incisive words and phrases. Soon he was exhibiting at major galleries and museums and collaborating with Andy Warhol. As a black man in a predominantly white art scene, he found himself increasingly caught between a desire for fame and a fear of being exploited by that world. Like his heroes Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix, Basquiat burned bright but died young of a drug overdose.