Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist born in Brooklyn, New York. He gained fame, first as a graffiti artist in New York City, and then as a highly successful avant-garde artist in the international art scene of the 1980s. His mother, Matilde, was Puerto Rican and his father, Gerard, was of Haitian origin. At an early age, Basquiat displayed an aptitude for art and was encouraged by his mother to draw, paint, and to participate in other art-related activities.

In 1977, when he was 17, Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz started spray-painting graffiti art on subway cars and slum buildings in lower Manhattan, adding the infamous signature of SAMO, meaning Same Old Shit. In 1978, Basquiat left home and quit school a year before graduating. He lived with friends and survived by selling T-shirts and postcards. In 1980, he participated in a multi-artist exhibition, sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated. During the next few years, he continued exhibiting his works around New York alongside artists such as Keith Haring and Barbara Kruger. Basquiat's art career is known for his three broad, though overlapping styles. In the earliest period, from 1980 to late 1982, Basquiat used painterly gestures on canvas, most often depicting skeletal figures and mask-like faces that expressed his obsession with mortality, and imagery derived from his street existence, such as automobiles, buildings, police, children's sidewalk games, and graffiti. A middle period from late 1982 to 1985 features multipanel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and seemingly unrelated imagery. These works reveal a strong interest in Basquiat's black and Hispanic identity and his identification with historical and contemporary black figures and events. The last style, from about 1986 to Basquiat's death in 1988, displays a new type of figurative depiction, in a new painterly style, with different symbols, sources, and content.

In 1983, Basquiat befriended Andy Warhol and the two made a number of collaborative works. Often, they discussed and disputed about the lacking African American art and literature. They also painted together, influencing each other’s work. Some claimed that Andy Warhol was merely using Basquiat for some of his techniques and insight, but this was never based on much fact, just mere speculation. Their relationship continued until Warhol's death. By 1984, many of Basquiat's friends were concerned about his excessive drug use and increasingly erratic behavior, including signs of paranoia. Basquiat appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist" in 1985. As Basquiat's international success heightened, his works were shown in solo exhibitions across major European capitals. Basquiat traveled to Africa in 1986 and his work was shown on the Ivory Coast. Warhol's death in 1987 came as very distressing to Basquiat. He continued to struggle with his addictions. In 1988, Basquiat escaped New York City to his island retreat in Maui. He died of a heroin overdose.