Jean-Michel Basquiat was a talent ahead of his time. He was raised by his father with the highest hopes and aspirations in mind, but became a young graffiti artist working in Greenwich Village at the height of the "punk" era, when the art scene was changing rapidly. He was part of the young, up-and-coming element, along with Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel, who challenged art's old perceptions.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a new artist, yes, but he was also a black artist in an art world run and viewed predominantly by white artists and collectors. Many, many of these people saw him as a black artist first, not an artist who just happened to be black. This plagued him throughout his entire career and kept from him the recognition he deserved while still alive. It made him extremely unhappy.
He was a prolific painter, constantly working in his East Village loft. Much of the young art world flowed in and out of his loft, keeping him company and providing small bits of inspiration. He painted on anything, any surface, anywhere. He frequently just painted all night, sleeping very little. His mind was constantly coming up with new ideas and perceptions. This was very hard on his romantic relationships, and often left him lonely.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was some years into his career when he met Andy Warhol, one of the most celebrated artists in the country and a member of the art avant guard. For Andy, it was love at first sight with Basquiat. It was unrequited, but they seemed to meet each other on a spiritual level and both benefited from the friendship. Some said Warhol was using Basquiat for his youth and fame, and others said the opposite, for Andy's fame and influence. In this writer's opinion, it was neither. Jean-Michel Basquiat's friendship with Andy Warhol was a true meeting of the minds.
Warhol's death hit Jean-Michel extremely hard. He was already frustrated and upset about his lack of recognition by the art world, and this only added to his distress. He became more unhappy and began heavily using drugs. Many of his friends tried to help but he was almost inconsolable. Through it all he continued to work, but his art and his face reflected his unhappiness. The once vibrant young man was bitter,lonely, and frustrated. Most of his friends truly abandoned him, and he sank deeper and deeper into depression. His race and his cutting edge talent were held against him until the end of his career.
Jean-Michel Basquiat's friendship with Andy Warhol was like a touchstone to him. He tried many times to stop his drug use, but that was the one thing, besides Warhol, that was always there for him. It seems almost inconceivable now that his blackness and youth was a hindrance to such a talent, but many things changed after him.
On the morning of August 12, 1988, he was found dead in his loft of a heroin overdose. After his death he was found to have left behind over 1,000 paintings, none of them having been shown to the art world that scorned him.