Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960–1988), one of the first African American artists to reach international stature and wealth in the art world, had a short but prolific career, rising to fame early for his fusion of multicultural symbols, biting social commentary, distinctive graphic style, and often temperamental personality. 

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Basquiat drew and visited museums regularly from an early age, and many of his childhood interests would prove influential in his later work. Basquiat dropped out of school at the age of 17, and began creating art, gaining notoriety for his invented character SAMO (“Same Old Shit”), who made a living peddling “fake” religion.

Contemporaries Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf fueled the art scene for New York City beginning in the 1980’s. Their works covered billboards, buildings, subway walls, and canvases with eye-catching, satirical commentary on modern culture. Through the strategic use of line, bold color, and caricature; the works of these artists evolved from street art to iconography. Explore our collection of these modern masters from their intricate works to their most simplistic expressions.

 Kenny Scharf (American, b.1958) is a painter and installation artist associated with the Lowbrow movement, and best known for work inspired by comic books and pop culture. Born in Los Angeles, CA, he studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and became part of the East Village art scene during the 1980s. His early work, such as Judy on the Beach (1962) and The Flinstones (1962), was strongly influenced by Hanna Barbera cartoons, but he gradually began to transition to biomorphic imagery. In 1985, the Whitney Biennial featured Scharf’s black light installations, such as his Closet #7, and the painting When Worlds Collide (1984). 

At the end of the 1980s, he began a series of Glob paintings, which were inspired by Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism. Scharf’s most recent series of paintings, titled Naturafutura (2010), depicts abstract swirls of black paint, inspired by his studio in coastal Brazil and the BP oil spill. He has held solo exhibitions at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey in Mexico, MoMA PS1 in New York, and the Pasadena Museum of Contemporary Art. He lives and works in Los Angeles.