In the late seventies, brief, cryptic messages began to appear on the streets of Manhattan, all signed SAMO. These subversive, sometimes menacing statements "PLAYING ART WITH DADDY'S MONEY", "9 TO 5 CLONE", "PLUSH SAFE ... HE THINK" piqued the curiosity of viewers around New York and soon gained notoriety in the art world.
SAMO, a tag calling up associations like "Sambo","Samson", or "Same Old Shit", remained anonymous for some time. Eventually, it became known that the author of SAMO's poetic defacements was Jean Michel Basquiat, with Al Diaz as his partner.
Born in Brooklyn to middle class Haitian and Puerto Rican parents, Basquiat left home while a teenager to live in lower Manhattan, take drugs, and play in a noise band, supporting himself with odd jobs. Around 1980, Basquiat's work began to attract attention from the art world, particularly after a group of artists from the punk and graffiti underground held the "Times Square Show" in an abandoned massage parlor. A wall covered with spray painting and brushwork by SAMO received favorable notices in the press, and Basquiat began to sell his paintings out of his tenement apartment. Within a year or two, Basquiat was well known throughout the art world, though SAMO graffiti appeared less and less often. Eventually, a few black marker messages inscribed around town announced "SAMO is dead." Jean Michel Basquiat died of a heroin overdose on August 12, 1988.
"Untitled" demonstrates Basquiat's consummate and complex abilities as a painter, and his frequent use of images, like the skull or crown as semi-self portraits. Contrary to many observers of his life who, with veiled racism, considered him a primitive, "wild child" talent, Basquiat's endeavors were informed by a long-standing and sophisticated interest in the devices of painting.
Born: 1960, Brooklyn, New York Died: 1988, New York, New York
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