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The Puerto Rican Heritage of Artist Jean Mitchel Basquiat

The work of American artist Jean Michel Basquiat is featured in an ad campaignl from iconic jeweler Tiffany, along with singer Beyonce and rapper Jay-Z. BeLatina bemoans the fact that Basquiat’s Puerto Rican heritage is not well recognized.

Basquiat’s mother was Puerto Rican, his father was from Haiti, and he grew up in New York City and in Miramar, Puerto Rico. His 1982 painting, “Equals Pi,” is visible in the ad campaign. Tiffany bought the painting from a private collector, claiming according to Women’s Wear Daily that they were sure Basquiat’s use of the shader Tiffany blue in the painting was “an homage.”

The painting was featured in GQ magazine and in W magazine.

Jean Michel Basquiat

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn and had a difficult childhood. He was involved in a car accident at the age of 7 and suffered internal injuries as well as a broken arm. His mother gave him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy to entertain him as he recovered, and he identified this book as an important influence in his art.

His mother, Matilde Basquiat (née Andrades), encouraged Basquiat’s love of art when he was a child and enrolled him in a private arts-focused school. “The art came from her,” Basquiat recalled. She was institutionalized when Basquiat was 10 years old, and was in and out of mental institutions from that time on. Basquiat lived with his father and sisters but ran away from home repeatedly.

Basquiat first came to the attention of the art world as a graffiti artist, but also created clothing and postcards, one of which he sold to Andy Warhol. He illustrated a children’s book, formed a band, and created films. In a brief but prolific career, Basquiat exhibited his work at venues such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum as well as the Puerto Rico Art Museum. He sold his first painting for $200. One of his paintings later set a record for American artwork with an auction price of $110.5 million.

Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27.

Basquiat in Puerto Rico

Basquiat lived in Puerto Rico with his father for several years. He often included the Spanish language in his art works. He is recognized as a political artist with an anti-colonial message.

The Puerto Rico Art Museum described his work: “His art is a nouvelle and surprising form of abstract expressionism, Povera art, primitivism, childrens art, abstraction, cubism and surrealism, and a myriad of avant guard elements; all with the underlying concern for the human condition in this violent post modern world.”

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