PAINTER JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT rose from the streets of Brooklyn in the 1970s to become a wealthy darling of the New York art world. But then he died of a heroin overdose in 1988, at the age of 27.
When he was seven years old he was hit by a car while playing stick-ball in the street. During a long hospital stay his mother brought him a copy of the textbook Gray’s Anatomy. Its medical drawings would prove a lifelong inspiration for Basquiat’s work, which often featured skulls with robotic or machine-like features.
He sold his first painting for $200 to singer Debbie Harry of the new-wave band Blondie. Before long Basquiat was riding around the city in limousines.
He idolized Andy Warhol, and the two artists collaborated on a series of paintings in 1985. But Basquiat deserted Warhol after a New York Times profile described the young painter as the pop artist’s “mascot.” Nonetheless, Basquiat was devastated when Warhol died after routine surgery in 1987. The loss may have pushed him further into the hard drug use that killed him the following year.
Watch the illuminating PBS documentary Basquiat: Rage to Riches, the latest in its excellent “American Masters” series.