The Expressionistic Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat

This month’s artist feature is inspired by a current exhibit in my hometown at the Orlando Museum of Art. They are showcasing the works of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The exhibit “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Thaddeus Mumford, Jr. Venice Collection” opened on February 12, 2022, and ends on June 30, 2023. This private collection of rare paintings is on display for the very first time.

A photo of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio.

About the Artist

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. He first achieved fame in the late 1970s as a graffiti artist in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was a cultural hub with a thriving art scene. During this time, he went by the pseudonym SAMO. He had many high-profile relationships from Madonna to David Bowie and often collaborated with his friend and mentor Andy Warhol.

A photo of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat with his friend and mentor, Andy Warhol.

By the early 1980s, his paintings were in exhibits and galleries all over the world. He is known for his distinctive raw expressionistic style. When he was alive, it was common to spot him in public creating art in $1,000 Armani suits spattered in paint. Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27.

Basquiat’s Artwork

When Basquiat was 8, a car struck him while he was playing in the street. He had to undergo surgery for the removal of his spleen. While he recovered, his mother gave him the famous medical and artistic treatise, Gray’s Anatomy. A lot of his artwork was inspired by the images in the text and his love for comic book art and cartoons.

Some common themes in Basquiat’s artwork included obsessive scribbling, enigmatic symbols, and diagrams. Other common themes were skulls, masks, and his trademark crown that he is known. In addition, he drew inspiration from his Caribbean heritage, classical themes, and pop-cultural figures. His artwork often reflected powerful forces within society and also himself.


Basquait's painting "Untitled" with a large head in the center.

Basquiat’s 1982 painting, Untitled, sold for 110.5 million at an auction. It became the most expensive artwork by an American artist ever sold.

With Strings Two

One of Basquait's paintings with a black figure with a gold crown on his head.

The piece above, With Strings Two, showcases his signature crown. He painted many of his figures black with crowns. He noticed the lack of representation of black people in artwork and decided to do something about it.

Portrait of A-One A.K.A King

A painting with a figure infused with a crown meant to represent Basquiat's friend.

The title of the painting above is Portrait of A-One A.K.A King. The figure in the painting represents his close friend and collaborator, graffiti artist A-One, or Anthony Clarke. He infused the figure with a crown and the word “kings” appears three times. This is a term that was commonly used to reference a respected graffiti artist.

Flesh and Spirit

A neutral painting by Basquiat with cartoonish drawings and childish writing.

The piece above is entitled Flesh and Spirit. With minimal color, it’s one of his more neutral pieces.

A black and white album cover design by Basquiat with a cartoon figure and childish writing.

Basquiat was also a huge fan of music and he often used it as a source of creative inspiration. The photo above is his design for an album cover for a vinyl record. It was for San Francisco punk band, The Offs. His cover design made it one of the most expensive records of all time. It’s complete with his signature cartoon style and childish script.

Heroes & Monsters Exhibit

The Heroes & Monsters exhibit currently at the Orlando Museum of Art is a collection of 25 rare paintings completed in what some say is the best period of his short career. The artist created them in 1982 when he was living in Los Angeles, CA.

On May 1, 2022, the museum will be hosting a film screening about Basquiat’s late teenage years. It will showcase never-before-seen works, writings, and photographs. It gives an inside look at what his life was like as a teenager in New York in the late 1970s.

I hope you enjoyed exploring the works of art world celebrity, Basquiat with me. Despite his short career, his name is sure to live on for decades to come.

For another style of art, check out the stunning artwork of Julian Stanczak in this post. To explore some beautiful murals, check out this post about Eduardo Kobra.