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Jean-Michel Basquiat’s enduring legacy in street art and popular culture is thanks, in part, to his unmistakable signature motif—the three-pointed crown. The simple design, a cartoon-like drawing outlined in black and often colored in yellow, was adopted by Basquiat from greater street art culture in the 1980s—the three-pointed crown was historically used as a tag to show respect for another artist’s work. Basquiat borrowed the motif for his own politically-charged visual language, transforming the crown into a symbol of Black power and excellence. Whether sitting atop a head or floating in space, the crown signified monarchy and ascendence. Adorning images of himself, Basquiat mimicked royal portraiture from European art history and anointed himself king. After Basquiat’s death in 1988 at the age of 27, the artist Keith Haring created a painting in tribute to his friend: A Pile of Crowns, for Jean-Michel Basquiat—and in the years since, the crown has become an interchangeable symbol …

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