• Jean-Michel Basquiat - From Punk Graffiti to Priceless Paintings

Jean-Michel Basquiat - From Punk Graffiti to Priceless Paintings

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a street-kid and boy genius who rocketed from being a graffiti artist in New York, to one of the world’s most celebrated painters.

Finding notoriety as part of the graffiti duo SAMO (short for ‘same old shit’), he laced doorways and walls around his home city with witty sayings and provocative messages. Basquiat famously quipped about his skills “believe it or not, I can actually draw.” Where many saw a rough kid from Brooklyn, Basquiat was actually a careful study of art. His talent as a painter soon saw him cross over to the international gallery circuit. He was heavily influenced by works in MoMA, drawings in Grey’s Anatomy, and his mentor and friend Andy Warhol.

The pair first met when Basquiat was selling his hand-painted postcards off the street. He spotted the famous Warhol having lunch with his art dealer. Excited, Basquiat hurried to show one of his heroes his work, who was impressed by Basquiat's energy. Andy promptly bought a postcard from him. A few years later, the two would meet again at the Art Factory, where Warhol created his work. Initially, Warhol described Basquiat as “one of those kids who drive me crazy,” but they quickly became close friends - a relationship that would hold fast until their respective deaths in the late 80s.

A true odd couple, they began collaborating on pieces between 1984 to 1986. Basquiat's raw energy and youth amplified Warhol’s experience. Basquiat even talked Andy into returning to painting by hand, instead of using silk screens for the project. While art critics trashed the resulting work, Warhol declared some of them masterpieces. It is these creations of color and chaos that Billabong has translated into the Warhol x Basquiat x Billabong LAB Collection.

Their collaboration lasted a few short years, before the pair continued their solo careers. Basquiat eventually died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27, just a year after Warhol passed away. In an obituary, the New York Times observed that Warhol’s death “removed one of the few reins on Mr. Basquiat’s mercurial behavior and appetite for narcotics”. Basquiat's demons eventually caught up to him, but they are captured in paint and pencil for the world to still awe at. His commentary on race, inequality and the unpredictable nature of people is more relevant than it has ever been. While Basquiat sold one of his first paintings to a friend for $100, last year one of his pieces sold for a wild $110 million USD.

Coming up, we’ll dive further into the strange way Warhol and Basquiat worked together, how each piece came about and how three of their collaborative works have been turned by the Billabong design team into wearable pieces of raw art history. Stay tuned.

Until then, check the collection here.

©/®/™ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.