Jean-Michel was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Haitian native father and Puerto Rican mother, his father an accountant, would bring home piles of paper for the children to scribble on. It is important to note that Basquiat was precocious and articulate. He was known for having the television on while playing music and surrounding himself with open books when creating his paintings. He drew information from outside sources, like Warhol he used remix culture, taking information from history books, academia, television shows and aesthetics from pop-culture to explore a range of social issues and thoughts. Remixing forces engagement as it uses social conations and places them in unfamiliar places to emote reactions from viewers. Basquiat himself was very interested in personhood, identity, culture, ancestry and anatomy, these themes appearing heavily in his work. He seemed very aware of the dualities and tensions that surrounded him as a young Black man in 80s white American art world.
In the 70’s all things Hip-Hop was on the rise in New York, graffiti artists were very much a part of this. However, discrimination was spreading, especially within the police force, the blossoming revolution of Hip-Hop culture was met with animosity and aversion by authorities. For instance, until 1972, graffiti was not considered an act punishable by law, then in 1983, Basquiat’s friend, Michel Stewart, a graffiti artist, was stopped by the police one night and was so brutally mistreated he had to be rushed to hospital, where he was announced dead shortly after. The treatment of Black men and women by the NYPD is still the cause of much trauma and protest in New York City, allowing his art to be appreciated again by a whole new generation dealing with similar issues. Basquiat knew that despite his fame and success in the art world that this could have easily been him. After the news, Basquiat went to Keith Haring’s studio and scrawled his reaction directly onto the wall, it was later named by Keith Haring - ‘Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart)’.