Jean-Michel Basquiat's sisters talk growing up with the Brooklyn-born art icon

ByEmily Sowa and Toby Hershkowitz WABC logo
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an influential African-American artist who rose to success during the 1980's New York art scene.

BROOKLYN, New York (WABC) -- Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22nd, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York.

His father was from Port au Prince, Haiti, and his mother was a New York native of Puerto Rican descent.

When Jean-Michel was 8-years-old, he was hit by a car while playing in the street and suffered a broken arm. While recovering, his mother brought him a medical textbook Gray's Anatomy.

The book's detailed anatomical drawings were the start of a World-renowned artist's inspiration.

Jean-Michel was the oldest child of the family with two younger sisters, Jeanine and Lisane. His sisters sat down with ABC7 reporter, Sandra Bookman, for an inside look at his life.

As a young boy, they say he was quite the prankster. Telling us a story of when Jean-Michel convinced them to call 20 some odd food delivery businesses all at once, just for the laugh of when 20 vendors approached their front door.

The family saw him grow up in fame. His art not even at the beginning of its recognition.

"The way that his words and artwork resonate with people. Resonates with the experiences we are having today. I can't say I thought 'my brother is going to be an artist' but I knew and recognized his artistic talent," said his sister Lisane Basquiat.

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"He was so ahead of his time. Genius almost," said sister Janine Basquiat. "He was not only able to put on canvas, his paintings but also his thoughts."

His early work consisted of spray painting buildings and trains in downtown New York alongside his friend Al Diaz.

After quickly rising to fame in the early 1980s, Basquiat was befriended by many celebrities and artists, including Andy Warhol, with whom he made several collaborative works.

"I'm not a real person. I'm a legend," Basquiat once claimed.

Basquiat made a lot of references to Haiti, Puerto Rico and Africa in his works, bringing out his heritage and his own personal experiences. He also included a lot about racism and classism and the experiences around him that was making him upset.

Basquiat died of an accidental drug overdose on August 12, 1988, at his Great Jones Street studio. He was 27 years old.

In the decades since his death, the artist has become just that with his works collected by the likes of Kanye West, Swizz Beatz and Jay Z. His name and unique personal style have become frequent reference points in popular culture.

Don't miss more incredible stories in honor of Black History Month.

Sandra Bookman reports on art icon Jean-Michel Basquiat.