Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. He first rose to prominence as a New York subway graffitist under the tag name SAMO. In 1978, he dropped out of high school shortly before graduation, and began his artistic life as a member of the East Village underground. By 1980, he was included in the seminal Times Square Art Show, a multi-artist exhibition that marked the break-through moment for Basquiat and his contemporaries. The artist rapidly became famous for his depictions of skeletal figures, mask-like faces and wordlists.
By 1982, Basquiat was seen as central to the Neo-Expressionist movement, one that included artists such as Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Francesco Clemente, in addition to the many other notable graffiti artists who also emerged at that time, such as Keith Haring. As Basquiat's career evolved, he turned to the creation of multi-panel canvases, paintings with exposed stretcher supports, while continuing to explore issues of racial identity. By 1983, he had exhibited at the Annina Nosei and Gagosian Galleries, ultimately being represented by the dealers Mary Boone and Bruno Bischofberger.