n 1981, Jean-Michel Basquiat catapulted from being an unknown nineteen year-old graffiti writer to becoming one of the most successful, controversial, glamorous artists in the world. His shows were anticipated as the big events of the New York season, and his paintings were bought by the most powerful collectors and museums. Every aspect of his life became a subject for the media. By 1988, he was dead at the age of 27. Jean-Michel Basquiat was described by The New York Times as "the art world's closest equivalent to James Dean." In spite of his success, this turbulent and talented young painter was also plagued by loneliness, self-destruction and the belief that people did not really accept him for who he was. As the first black artist to really succeed in the powerful white art world, his early death shows that he was a casualty as well as a phenomenal success. BASQUIAT is a film based on his life, and marks the motion picture writing and directing debut of his fellow artist, the equally-controversial Julian Schnabel. Schnabel did not make the film to lament the artist's death, but to honor his life.