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Street as studio


“Basquiat’s canvases captured his soul and the soul of the streets.”
– Common, rapper

Basquiat’s early works draw on the urban landscape for their subject matter, approach and materials. Born in Brooklyn to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican American mother, Basquiat introduced himself at age 17 to the downtown New York art scene with conceptual graffiti. Political, poetic and funny, these provocative messages were the creations of Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz. The pair worked under the pseudonym SAMO©, short for “same old shit.” Basquiat did not consider himself a graffiti artist, but used spray paint as a tool to crack open the doors of the art world. He then began to work with materials he found on the street: discarded foam, windows and doors. In his distinctive style, Basquiat transcribes the city – with its cars, planes, trains and sidewalk games – into these innovative early works, bringing the poetry of the street into the gallery.

Jean‐Michel Basquiat
Number 4, 1981
Acrylic, oilstick, and paper collage on canvas
167 x 137 cm
Collection Andre Sakhai, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
Photo by Jason Wyche
© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York