"I never went to art school. I failed the art courses that I did take in school. I just looked at a lot of things. And that’s how I learnt about art, by looking at it".

"I never went to art school. I failed the art courses that I did take in school. I just looked at a lot of things. And that's how I learnt about art, by looking at it". Basquiat's art was fundamentally rooted in the New York City graffiti scene of the 1970s. After becoming involved in an Upper West Side drama group called Family Life Theater he developed the character SAMO (an acronym for "Same Old Shit"), a man who tried to sell a fake religion to audiences. In 1976, he and an artist friend, Al Diaz, started spray-painting buildings in Lower Manhattan under this nom de plume. The SAMO pieces were largely text based, and communicated an anti-establishment, anti-religion, and anti-politics message. The text of these messages was accompanied by logos and imagery that would later feature in Basquiat's solo work, particularly the three-pointed crown.

The SAMO pieces soon received media attention from the counterculture press, most notably the Village Voice, a publication that documented art, culture, and music that saw itself as distinct from the mainstream. When Basquiat and Diaz had a disagreement and decided to stop working together, Basquiat ended the project with the terse message: SAMO IS DEAD. This message appeared on the facade of several SoHo art galleries and downtown buildings during 1980. After taking note of the declaration, Basquiat's friend and Street Art collaborator Keith Haring staged a mock wake for SAMO at Club 57, an underground nightclub in the East Village.