“I love the poem The Parade Begins and the Parade Ends. It’s the story of the Cuban Revolution; of the beginning, and the optimism, and the tristeza – the sadness – of everything being closed, and something being lost.”
Julian Schnabel, ‘Interview: Julian Schnabel’, filmed on the occasion of his solo exhibition at Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, 2021
“I love the poem The Parade Begins and the Parade Ends. It’s the story of the Cuban Revolution; of the beginning, and the optimism, and the tristeza – the sadness – of everything being closed, and something being lost.”
“Vastness. And unseizable depth. A wall-like painting [Untitled, 2017], more than three metres high and more than five metres wide. Rigorously barged into any gaze just like a billboard. Though mounted in blunt monumentality, the image remains elusive. In all its directness it is ambiguous and it takes a certain distance to see the drifting, seemingly boundless pink, into which one is practically thrown, for what it really is.
The rosy ground consists of four vertically sewn widths of cloth. Partially scraped and dented, with several long dry stains. The whole cloth appears to be old and withered. And it neither reveals its descent nor the origins of the obvious signs of use and environmental effects.
Julian Schnabel did not paint these colour grounds, he 'selected' them. The sunburned cloth comes from Mexico. He discovered it at a small market in Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast, where it was used as a cover for the stalls and thus exposed to the elements. […] Thus, the pink is anything but abstract or non-objective. It is a thing, it has a history, its own colourous weight, so to say, its own shape. The pink is corporeal, farm ore than mere incarnate, and figural in itself. [...]
In front of the sovereign expanse of pink, the deep night blue appears far more vulnerable. Not only are the painterly gestures incongruent with the underlying geometry, even their possible complementary contrasts are 'off-key'. Anyhow, these are no contradictions. Consciously, Schnabel creates a dissonance between the supporting ground and his painting. Therein, it is for the horizontally drawn-in baulks to give hold and for the white to find an intermediatory balance for the complete paintings in all its openness.
Schnabel's pictorial figure originates exactly from the tense equalisation of these absolutely dissimilar poles – the historic materiality of the cloth and the colourous gesture with the painterly experience it invokes. Only the wide colour ground allows the painterly forms to float airily. Only against its clear structure can they unfold themselves, energetic, unbound and vibrant.”
C. Malycha, 'Trust, Doubt, Friendship', in Albert Oehlen Julian Schnabel, exh. cat., Berlin: Galerie Max Hetzler and Holzwarth Publications, 2018, p. 5
“In a real sense, surfing, the most ubiquitous and now diluted word in the virtual world, takes its authority, and its potential as signifier, from the earlier drama of man's relationship to the sea, the ultimate romantic trope. Man as existential figure, either comforted or challenged by nature … Caspar David Friedrich's longing lonely visitors to vistas or conversely Conrad's dark heart where nature as solicitude is not peaceful – nature is violent destroyer. Vast and insurmontable, the figure in nature must undergo legendary trials. [...]
A wall of water, a wall of surging force, produces the groove within the curl – the epiphany. This is also the nature of painting: a still moment in the cacophony of media images playing endlessly; a single moment of image ecology in time stilled; or, conversely, the wipe-out, the spill, the disaster – all perfect metaphors for Schnabel's painting methods. A still photo, one moment forever eternalized from motion against a chaotic white eruption of paint, an expression of force, a stain on the perfect moment It is a reminder of the crashing forces of time, the most romantic/antiromantic moment when chance and perfection collide. [...]
These images reaffirm what a photograph can and cannot do, and what paint can and cannot do in the twenty-first century. If photos play the role of culture today and paint is now nature (in Schnabel's fists at least), then these images play out the eternal duality, the struggle and inconclusiveness of a battle raging, an endless war in the present tense, the endless moment, the continuous wave hello/goodbye. [...]
Schnabel knows in his heart not that painting is dead (he himself is dedicated to it), but that it stands in front of, or in the hollow pull of a media culture which threatens at every moment to pummel it, to kill history, to drown it, to overcome it. But, gloriously, in these images of a frontier space, he also knows that to engage this debate, this monster, is to perform an act of grace, of possible redemption, just at the moment (the historical index) when it is endangered most. There are acts of radical hope (surfing/painting).”
D. Moos and B. Ferguson, 'Notes on Julian Schnabel's Untitled (surfer) Paintings', in Summer, exh. cat., Milan: Skira, 2008, p. 53-57
“The title of this painting, And He Close His Eyes and Started to Dream About Clouds and Then It Was Over, is a pure invention, a line of poetry that arcs back, in terms of painterly precedent, to the fleeting cloud studies of John Constable, the turbulent, furious skies of J.M.W. Turner, Fitz Hugh Lane's quiet wisps retreating through sunset, Georgia O'Keeffe's majestic sky above the clouds, Gerhard Richter's slate gray quadrants of shifting clouds, and Sigmar Polke's perplexing diagram of cloud catching. In this painting Schnabel welcomes all of these references, for they underwrite his image and enfold his project as an artist. When one looks at his painting, each of the forms resonates with the familiarity of art history, yet possesses the impact of original experience.”
D. Moos, 'Scene by Scene: Ten Paintings by Julian Schnabel from 1976 to Today', in Summer, exh. cat., Milan: Skira, 2008, p. 47
“Here one confronts the artist's face and full upper body, brushes in both hands, caught in a moment of observation and reflection as he undertakes the task of creating an autonomous likeness. Here Schnabel triangulates himself in specific terms, informed by the line that links Diego Velasquez to Caspar David Friedrich to Max Beckmann. [...] Schnabel's face is cast in shadow, heightening the sense of introspection. Painted at a moment when Schnabel's reputation as filmmaker was ascendant, this work took a considerable risk, wagering a new facet of his painterly range. The cascading, vigorously brushed green of the background, which recalls earlier expressionist surfaces, presses Schnabel forward. With the literal frame edge cutting off his legs above the knee, the painter appears on the threshold where painting intersects with the world. Caught between the realm of his past – painting – and the future before him, beyond the frame, Schnabel presents himself at mid-life: seeing into his self as much as he offers this vision to the viewer. There is an arresting bluntness to this act, which defines Schnabel's confidence.”
D. Moos, 'Scene by Scene: Ten Paintings by Julian Schnabel from 1976 to Today', in Summer, exh. cat., Milan: Skira, 2008, p. 43
“Among the examples of fragmentation in Schnabel's work are [...] the heads in the “Versions of Chuck” painting series of 2003. Although the heads are physically attached to their bodies, Schnabel visibly disconnects them by varying his painting approach for the two parts – the heads are modeled in yellow, baby blue, and various shades of pink, while the bodies are articulated with striated graphic strokes. The disparate treatment of the head and body is reminiscent of Picasso's Iberian-period portraits, such as his painting of Gertrude Stein, in which the face looks like a simplified mask stuck on a voluminous body. [...] Schnabel's repetitive use of decapitated images in his paintings is also emblematic of his fascination with the Cartesian discourse concerning the separation of body and mind. Thinking is the essence of human existence, whereas the body and all other physical things in the external world can only be known through the use of the senses, which are unreliable.”
B. Clearwater, 'Julian the Apostate', in Julian Schnabel, Versions of Chuck & Other Works, exh. cat., Dernerburg: Dernerburg Publications, 2007, pp. 27 – 30
“In 2001, Schnabel painted a series of portraits entitled Girl with No Eyes. Some of them were absolutely huge, measuring almost four yards in height and width, and for the first time he did not use a live model. Instead, he used a small oil painting of a young girl with fair hair and wearing a blue outfit with a huge white trimmed collar that he found in a bric-a-brac shop in Houston in 1987. He painted four purple marks on it, one of which covered her eyes. Fourteen years later Schnabel used this portrait, purple marks and all, as a model for his large-scale paintings. He blotted out her eyes with extremely violent thick brushstrokes. The result of that change in the picture's scale means you no longer see her as a young girl or even as a portrait because you can't look her in the eye anymore.”
M. De Corral, 'Painting and Seduction', in Julian Schnabel – Malerei 1978-2003, exh. cat., Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz Verlag, 2004, p. 141
“Schnabel's portrait [Portrait of Albert Oehlen, 1997] is a classical one. Painted in San Sebastián in 1997, in a garage. The floor was earthen and Oehlen himself stood as model. But then imagination kicks in and tints the whole image into a flood of golden yellow light. Only crossed by a glistening white reflex, an atmospheric ray of light. Although painted directly on site, Oehlen's garment is invented as well, a cheeky blending of a nightgown, a shirt and a laced soutane. Almost a Velázquez embedded in amber. The head, frontal and cautiously rendered, returns to reality. Schnabel reveals Oehlen's scepticism. With an attentive gaze he turns towards the viewer and stands upright, yet impalpably bends his back and retracts into himself – indeed a sign of an incorporated painterly self-awareness.”
C. Malycha, 'Trust, Doubt, Friendship', in Albert Oehlen Julian Schnabel, exh. cat., Berlin: Galerie Max Hetzler and Holzwarth Publications, 2018, p. 11
“They [Nîmes Paintings] are large because that's a necessary part of the content of the paintings. The scale and size of the painting has a physical reality that affects its meaning... When the paintings are large, the interior of the painting seems to deconstruct itself, I like that, and I like what happens to me, when I feel like I'm watching the painting deconstruct itself.”
J. Schnabel, in Flash Art International, 1986, p. 51
“ [...] Using already existing materials establishes a level of ethnographic-ness in the work; I mean it brings a real place and time into the aesthetic reality. Its selection can locate a place and time into the aesthetic reality. Its selection can locate a place, a cultural familiar or exotic, self-made or procured. This is the platform for the mental and physical structure within the painting.”
J. Schnabel, 'Writings by Julian Schnabel', in Julian Schnabel, exh. cat., Prato: Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, 1989, p. 32
“Close precedents in American art for Schnabel's use of lettering include some of the paintings that Adolph Gottlieb and Bradley Walker Tomlin did during the most stimulating days of Abstract Expressionism, and the works of Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns, to name just a few […] Schnabel [...] proposes that the word become a form, the essence of an image, the subject matter. Words and letters in his paintings become a personal diary full of hints, obsessions, and literary references. [...] Letters are real. For me they’re pictorial elements that also have a sociological connotation and a historical, temporal connotation. When I write on these works that look like abstract paintings but which are not, the words inform them, they color their meaning.”
J. Schnabel, 'With Schnabel, About Schnabel. An Introduction and Excerpts from an Interview', in Julian Schnabel, exh. cat., Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, 1989, pp. 20-21
“El Carmen in Sevilla was built in the fourteenth century, by monks. They occupied it until 1835, and then the army took over until just a few years ago. So there were a couple of hundred years of mix between the army and religion; it's a very loaded kind of place. The paintings (Recognition Paintings) that I showed there dealt with a similar kind of crossover. They're painted on tarps that the army used to cover trucks. In general, the words that are painted on them have a religious connotation. In that particular part of the world, you feel that the biggest global battle is a battle of religion. So there's a funny relationship between these two things: I think the paintings look like battle standards. [...] It seems as if these paintings were actually found there in the monastery in Sevilla, creating their own fiction.”
J. Schnabel, 'With Schnabel, About Schnabel. An Introduction and Excerpts from an Interview', in Julian Schnabel, exh. cat., Prato: Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, 1989, p. 23
“ […] I think Polke, Kiefer and I all got something from Beuys, in that Beuys presented an alternative to the esoteric trappings of art and this notion of its progressiveness. He was able to make an art that was outside the formal realm – he put it on a generic, humanistic level. So things like theatricality, illustration, which had been dirty words in America, things alluding to life, which had been excluded from the forum fo art in Clement Greenberg's idea of it, and in the American chauvinism of that time, became part of the possibility of art through Beuys.”
J. Schnabel, 'Julian Schnabel in conversation with Matthew Collings', in Julian Schnabel: Paintings 1975-1987, exh. cat., London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1987, p. 89
“ [...] the so-called 'Mexican' paintings were painted on tarpaulins previously used to cover the cargo-beds of trucks in Mexico. The found nature of the grounds of these works, with their built-in archeology of layered stains and teas, actualizes what was metaphorical in Schnabel's earlier broken ceramic grounds, with their emphatically stated illusion of found-ness and archeological depth. The Mexican tarpaulins bring their prior histories in the dark night of the world into the sterilized gallery setting like an unshaven drunk sleeping it off in a museum.
In these works the line between painting and conceptual art, which has been fine (if not invisible) one lately, is crossed. Uncontemplated and undesigned, the darkened areas of the canvas were not determined by the artist's aesthetic sense but by the imponderables of weather and the rods. The holes are not Fontana-like penetrations into an aesthetic infinite but mark the finity of a precise physical moment. [...]
The gargoyle- and monster-like figures were coaxed up into the light by sketching in connections between marks already present, like an ink-blot test or a connect-the-dots puzzle. In the process the ground acted as an analogue of the unconscious, both of the artist and of the land, rendering up to the surface of consciousness, when stirred into motion by the artist's brush, images evocative at once of the Christian unconscious, hell, and of the pre-Christian religious imagery of Mexico, where they were painted.”
T. McEvilley, 'The Case of Julian Schnabel', in Julian Schnabel: Paintings 1975-1987, exh. cat., London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1987, p. 19
“ […] Schnabel introduced a new, playful material quality into contemporary painting in the late seventies-and it stands in stark contrast to the Minimalist reduction of that time. A found painting surface, such as an old tarpaulin, a dark-coloured velvet, or a panel from a stage set, already has its own structure and history. Such surfaces are not neutral; they are not passive, but instead already have a voice of their own and the power to evoke a mood. Inevitably, a new and totally autonomous architecture and structure of the painting emerges from such a surface.”
M. Hollein, 'The Works and Their Viewers', in Julian Schnabel – Malerei 1978-2003, exh. cat., Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz Verlag, 2004, p. 33
“A significant number of Schnabel's paintings are portraits. […] One of the most memorable paintings in the Toronto show (exh. Julian Schnabel: Art and Film at Art Gallery of Ontario, 2010-2011) was Portrait of Andy Warhol (1982). Half of an artistic exchange (Warhol did a portrait of Schnabel), it presents Warhol as a spectral figure glowing against a black-velvet background. (Like nearly all of Schnabel's portraits, this one was done from life.) Delineated with abrupt strokes of bone white and scumbled violets and yellows, Warhol could be one of El Greco's vulnerable, sinewy saints. Shirtless, but sporting a pink truss around his stomach [...], he is less a body than a transparent vessel filled with cloudy substances. Rather than occupying the center of the canvas, where we would expect to find him, Warhol has been displaced to the left side of the horizontal rectangle, creating space for the painting's other protagonist: a flurry of white specks and squiggles of oil paint and modeling paste selectively flung onto the black velvet. In the background, some faint blue and brown lines suggest scaffolding or a ghostly room. A smear of brown paint in the upper center of the composition is an early instance of the biomorphic shapes that have intruded into many of Schnabel's subsequent pictures. [...] The white flecks emphasize the fragility of Warhol's barely-held-together body, as if he had dissolved into dust, a painter surviving only via (quite literally) paint. Alternatively, the black chamber could be a movie theater and the flecks, which recall the impregnating cloud in Titan's Danae and the Shower of Gold, so much glittering dust swirling in the light of a film projector. The painting is a perceptive depiction of extreme emotional isolation.”
R. Rubinstein, 'The Big Picture: Reconsidering Julian Schnabel', in Art in America, no. 3, 2011, pp. 114-115
An early work by Julian Schnabel, Leda and the Swan, is one of the artist's towering, visceral renderings of the classical myth. An inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists throughout art history, from Michelangelo and Rubens to Cy Twombly, the myth relays the seduction of Leda – future mother of Helen of Troy – by Zeus, who deceived her in the form of a swan.
An exemplar of Schnabel's intuitive sense of scale and gesture, Leda and the Swan belongs to the Mutant King series, a small group of paintings realised in the early 1980s, in which he draws from classical themes of mythology and religion. Executed on burlap, Leda and the Swan transpires a raw, conflicted, chaotically passionate energy. The work is animated by compact, rough areas of brushwork built from oil and wax – a medium favoured by Schnabel in his early work, and a likely reference to Old Master painting in the palette of deep wine and bright, saturated red.
Hovering between pictoriality and materiality, the iconic and the ordinary, Leda and the Swan is both a monument of Schnabel's contribution to invigorate painting, and an embodiment of his belief that “feeling cannot be separated from the intellect”.
“Bob's Worlds displays in large format the actualizing of the image that Schnabel achieved with the advent of his plate technique. He envisioned this radical technique while traveling in 1978: 'I had had a funny idea that I could make a painting the size of the closet in my hotel room in Barcelona and that I could cover it with broken plates.' He returned to New York and implemented this almost hallucinatory vision. He created paintings – shattered plates affixed to wooden supports embedded into and covered with paint – that would define a turn in American painting, leaving behind the arid visual doctrine of minimalism and plunging into the image-laden discourse of postmodernism.
Bob's Worlds breaks the space of the closet into three parts: a narrow left panel covered in plate fragments; a central purple panel that supports two large entwined sculptural flowers; and a right panel that describes a striding figure derived from Van Gogh's Sower and Francis Bacon's versions of that same motif. [...] Although the content descends from the history of art, the surface and space is Schnabel's alone. Bob's Worlds valorizes this difference, which becomes the organizing trope anchoring Schnabel's painterly imagination – the difference between tradition and originality – or, more properly, the situating and uneasy fitting together of both.”
There is a perpetual tension between the conventions of painting and the space of innovation. Although one might comprehend Schnabel's shattered plates as working through cubist space, the effect of their surface – shared from antiquity, drip-splattered remnants from abtract expressionism – they defy convention and call into question the disparity between real objects and painted depictions. Schnabel's work explores such echoing possibilities, opening up art-historical frameworks for the viewer to speculatively explore. […] Schnabel's painting always offers references that seem familiar, chiming with cultural and art-historical narratives, while resisting fully unfolding their meaning.”
Moos, 'Scene by Scene: Ten Paintings by Julian Schnabel from 1976 to Today', in Summer, exh. cat, Milan: Skira, 2008, p. 31
“Schnabel’s breakthrough in the late 70s – his method of painting on a field of broken plates glued onto large supports – was a radical expression of the concept of the world as a fragmented entity. This specifically Modern vision was born in the divided brushstrokes of the Impressionists; it cuts across 20th century Modernism through the high points of Cubism, the use of collages and Rauschenberg’s ‘combines’ and finally expresses itself in Schnabel’s broken plates.”
A. Barzel, 'With Schnabel, About Schnabel: An Introduction and Excerpts from an Interview', in Julian Schnabel, exh. cat., Prato: Centro per l ́Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, 1989
“In the early paintings of Schnabel [...] such as Jack the Bellboy [...] figurative, even classical, elements sit on top of abstraction in a distinctive manner. The only other artist of an earlier generation who had an analogous strategy – even if with different results – was Cy Twombly, who was in the late 1970s only just beginning his own trajectory of success and universal appreciation [...] Schnabel, like Twombly, was always asserting purity of imagination over pure formalism.”
N. Rosenthal, 'Julian Schnabel: The Unique Sea of Incalculable and Bottomless History', in Julian Schnabel: Permanently Becoming and the Architecture of Seeing, exh. cat., Milano: Skira Editore, 2011, p. 39
Unless stated otherwise, all images:
Courtesy of the artist
© Julian Schnabel Studio