8 Quotes From Jean-Michel Basquiat on What Would Be His 55th Birthday

Observations from the enigmatic artist.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

For decades, street artists have tried to push the parameters of fine art, forcing the unconventional medium into the established canon. But there are only a select few that have been able to become more than a figure at the margins of the contemporary art scene.

Jean-Michel Basquiat did just that. He used his tag, SAMO, to get a foothold into the burgeoning gallery scene on the Lower-East Side in the 1980s: “SAMO FOR THE ART PIMPS,” one version proclaimed. To his surprise and sometimes to his dismay, he became one of the most famous artist of his generation, befriending Andy Warhol and Francesco Clemente, and establishing a relationship with musicians, celebrities, and art world luminaries.

In celebration of what would have been his 55th birthday, we’ve compiled a list of quotes from the cheeky and enigmatic young artist, who died at 27 years old.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Sans titre (Self portrait with tie) (1985) Photo: courtesy Tajan

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sans titre (Self portrait with tie) (1985).
Photo: courtesy Tajan.

On his favorite painters:
“The more I paint the more like everything.”

On Black subjects:
“I think there’s a lot of people that are neglected in art… Black people are never really portrayed realistically. They’re not even portrayed in modern art.”

On the origins of his artwork:
“Real life, books, television.”

On not studying, but making:
“I was making [art] in an airplane once. I was copying some stuff out of a Roman sculpture book. This lady said. ‘Oh what are you studying?’ I said, ‘it’s a drawing,”

On the ubiquitous copyright symbols in his work:
“It’s a copyright [symbol], so I won’t get sued.”

On his slow process:
“I’m a slow person.”


Jean-Michel Basquiat, Back of the Neck (1983).
Image: Courtesy of Christies.com.

On owning a home:
“I haven’t decided what party of the world isn’t going to get blown-up so I don’t know where to put it.”

On his failing childhood artwork:
“I was a really lousy artist as a kid. Too abstract expressionist; or I’d draw a big ram’s head really messy. I’d never win painting contests. I remember losing to a guy who did a perfect Spiderman.”

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