Perhaps the artist that best exemplifies the 1980s New York art world and this meteoric rise to stardom is Jean-Michel Basquiat. He began as an obscure graffiti artist in the late 1970s and evolved into an acclaimed Neo-Expressionist and Primitivist painter during the 1980s. Combining raw, hand-scrawled text, drawing, and colorful painting, this graffiti-inspired aesthetic appeared crude; however, it carried deeper messages about racism and class warfare. Throughout his career Basquiat focused on suggestive dichotomies, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. Basquiats art utilized a synergy of appropriation, poetry, drawing, and painting, which married text and image, abstraction and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.
A laudatory review in Art forum magazine propelled Basquiat to fame in 1981, and he began collaborating with powerful gallerists such as Larry Gagosian and Mary Boone; respected artists such as Robert Rauschenberg; and musical icons, including David Bowie. He remained a fixture of the scene and a media darling, even appearing on the cover of a February 1986 issue of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist. While Basquiat grew into a commercial sensation up through the mid-1980s, he suffered from a severe heroin addiction that ultimately claimed his life in 1988.