A 21-year-old black artist born in Brooklyn of Haitian parents, Basquiat was invited by Annina Nosei to join her gallery in SoHo after she had seen his work at the “New York/New Wave” show at P.S. 1. He now works out of the basement of her gallery where—in something like a hothouse for forced growth—he produces ever more prodigious paintings, all of them teeming with a psychosymbolic iconography of skeletonized figures, skulls, bones, arrows and Twomblyesque scrawls.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: People are getting credit now for graffiti as if it were something new, but they’re really fifth or tenth string. I was never part of any graffiti group; I hung to myself a lot. I left home at 15, and went to Washington Square Park. I just sat there, dropping acid, for eight months. Now that all seems boring; it eats your mind up. Then I went to high school for a little while, where I made those typical teenage psychedelic pictures of people’s faces with stars. I was also selling handmade postcards, and handpainted Abstract Expressionist sweatshirts, to make money. I event went to Interview magazine and bugged Andy Warhol, you know, to find out how to get closer to it. Then I was in Diego Cortez’s “New York/New Wave” show at P.S. 1. In those days I never had enough money to cover a whole canvas. I wouldn’t be surprised if I died like a boxer, really broke, but somehow I doubt it. I was joking one day and thought, maybe I should go to the Art Students League—to see if it’s really conducive to anything—but students’ work is so sad. I had more artist friends before I began to make money; now only other artists who make money want to see me. I feel much happier now—my whole life is focused. Before there was all this energy, and nowhere to put it.