This is Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1965. He is four years old in this picture but one can already see his precocious demeanor. His lips do not curl into the bright smile of an optimist nor does he wear the wary disposition of a pessimist. Instead, his face screams, “I am four years old, but I already see the world beyond my years.” Even so, he is relatively unaffected at this point- a youth not yet an addict to the elements of expression, not yet an addict to internalizing the discrepancies of the world, not yet an addict to the heroin that ultimately took his life. Yet, all of these addictions, however freeing or destructive they may have been, made Basquiat BASQUIAT, the greatest artist of the last 30 years.
Basquiat, regardless of how short his life was, left a lasting legacy. Above is a compilation of some of his most influential works that contemporary artists still study to this day for inspiration. Through manifestations of his black identity in paintings, he helped guide art’s return to figurativism—artwork derived from real object sources and defined as representational. Whether he painted grinning heads in “Hollywood Africans,” a salute to Charlie Parker in “Charles the First”, or the irony of the “Negro Policeman”, he sought to convey a sense of what it means to be a contemporary black American.