American Filmmaker, Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor
Brooklyn, New York
Summary of Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel began his artistic career in the late 1970s and was part of a contingent of 1980s artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Salle who endeavored to restore painting to its pre-abstraction status. Their style permitted expressivity, even exuberance, and, in contrast to the pervasive intellectualism of Minimalist and Conceptualist art of the time, balanced technical concerns with emotional resonance. As a Neo-Expressionist, Schnabel reintroduced human sentiment to painting and eschewed flatness, heaping materials onto unconventional supports such as black velvet, weathered tarpaulins, and cardboard. In addition to painting, Schnabel's expansive creative impulse led him to branch out into music, photography, and film. Schnabel has received widespread critical acclaim for work as the director of Basquiat, Before Night Falls, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, among other productions, although he identifies himself as a painter first and foremost.
- Emerging on the heels of Minimalism and Conceptual art, Schnabel's near-mania for excess was, in itself, a potent declaration of his iconoclastic intent. His works, heavily laden not only with emotion - often there is an edge of brutal expressivity - but also quite literally with highly unconventional materials, are his manifestoes. Constructed on irregular supports like black velvet and aged tarpaulins, the lavish chaos of Schnabel's collage-like paintings is in itself a rejection of Minimalist asceticism, a true turning point for painting.
- Schnabel arrived on the New York art scene with a precocious vengeance. He acquired almost immediate renown for his outlandish behavior, outspokenness, and egotism. Reviled by some and encouraged, even adored, by others, Schnabel seemed to be reinstituting the cult of the bohemian artist as a means of shameless self-promotion. Critics contended that his work was judged less on its potential merit than on the artist's larger-than-life, charismatic, and idiosyncratic persona.
- Schnabel's work frequently features religious and, in particular, Catholic iconography and themes. His youthful engagement with Mexican culture and Meso-American religious practice when his family lived quite close to the Mexican border in Texas persisted as a lifelong fixation, which is reflected in his art. Introducing oblique religious themes in his work was a means by which Schnabel could not only infuse his paintings with meaning, but also, on a more fundamental level, connect with art history, albeit in an often satirical way.
Biography of Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 25, 1951 to Esta and Jack Schnabel, the youngest of three children. His long-standing fascination with Mexican culture and Catholic imagery and symbolism, so inherent to much Mexican folk art, was sparked when he was an adolescent. Leaving behind the lively Jewish community of his birthplace, at age thirteen Schnabel moved with his family to Brownsville, Texas., Brownsville was an utterly new, alien world, not far from the Mexican border, which seemed to ignite the creative spark of the inquisitive and innovative teen. As a youth, Schnabel's creative impulse was expressed in various ways; it was during those years that he determined to be an artist. He also sang in a rock band. This creative diversity set the stage for his multifaceted and prolific career.
Important Art by Julian Schnabel
With his eerie portrait of fellow artist Andy Warhol, executed on black velvet, Schnabel has united low culture, pop art, and the high-art tradition of portraiture. The painterly style and palette are reminiscent of works by El Greco and Francis Bacon. Warhol stands dramatically alone on the right side of the composition in a sea of black velvet. Telltale paint splatters and smears partially cover the middle and the right side of the image, adding balance and mysterious depth to the composition. Known for his controlled and almost emotionless portraits of celebrities and the otherwise infamous that emphasized the homogeneity of visual reproductions, Warhol is ironically depicted with tremendous expressive impact in this portrait by Schnabel.
The Student of Prague is one of Schnabel's famous "plate paintings" in which he applied heavy layers of pigment over broken plates and horns that were glued to a wood panel. The work is exemplary Schnabel's oeuvre of the 1980s in its massive scale and almost baroque ornamentation. The broken plates are in part representative of the influence of the work of Gaudi, whose pottery-fragment mosaics were interesting to Schnabel. Moreover, Schnabel's use of broken crockery as a painting surface signaled an overtly defiant departure from the almost sacred "flat surface" rule of Minimalist painting. This fusion of the everyday and the grandiose were characteristic of the extreme emotionalism of Schnabel's narratives.
Structurally, the work resembles a triptych, a standard format for Christian painting of the Renaissance. It is divided into three distinct sections with the middle partition rising upward and outward above the others. Connected by the unifying surface texture, the work evokes the hinged panels of its medieval and Renaissance predecessors; rough crosses appear here and there, reinforcing the Christian symbolism. The lone, ghost-like figure in the center of the composition is both integrated with and singled out from the rocky landscape of the painting's imagined and material surfaces.
This work was inspired by Schnabel's visit to Spain in the late 1970s. Like The Student of Prague, it is also a "plate painting," but here his palette is rich and earthy, evoking the Spanish landscape. The chaotic, irregular surface created by the broken crockery lends Spain a sense of danger, and the disembodied head, a standard feature in many works by Schnabel, reinforces the sense of uneasiness. Spain might be said to evoke some of the more prominent influences for Schnabel: the floating head seems straight out of a tableau by Picasso; the assembled, broken crockery are perhaps direct referents to the mosaics of Gaudi; and the rough, exuberant brushwork evokes the colorful splatters and splashes of Pollock.