Director Julian Schnabel set out for a film ruled by contrasts. Plain, white, pure and refined Soho art galleries where art aficionados schmooze with Andy Warhol and drop half a million dolloars on original paintings, versus grafitti-covered New York streetscapes filled with wild youth whose raw creativity literally sprays onto walls. The eccentric, unkempt lead character versus hoity-toity conisuers of high art. A number of tracking shots, following characters in the film along sidewalks with street art in blazing colors, interspersed with intimate close-ups of characters dining in the finest restaurants in town, help give a sense of this contrast.
One medium shot, during the film's opening sequence, is framed so that we see the young art promoter who would later “discover” Basquiat, reading on a bench in a park, as Basquiat emerges, out of focus and in the background, from a cardboard box which for some time he called home. Framing the shot this way may have been a way to visually capture the emergence “from nothing” or an art icon.
There are a number of scenes in this film that take place in art galleries. In several of those scenes, the young Jean Michel Basquiat is emerging as an important figure in an art world that is much bigger (literally and figuratively) than he is. A relatively wide angle lens is used to exaggerate the distance between Jean Michel and heavyweights of the New York art world who are in the room with him, as well as to make the large, cavernous space of the galleries appear more immense and imposing than it really is.