Julian Schnabel: a private portrait

Since we watched the documentary about Julian Schnabel: “Julian Schnabel: A private portrait”, we have wanted to introduce you to this figure and his art because, we can tell you now, it’s well worth it.

Let’s start at the beginning…

Julian Schnabel was born in New York on 26th October 1951, although his childhood was spent in Texas where, as well as going to school, he went surfing and decided to be an artist. Julian achieved fame as a painter but since then has also become a renowned film-maker in his own right. His six films – Basquiat, Before Night Falls, Miral, Lou Reed’s Berlin, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and at Eternity’s gate – have earned him the nominations and awards of the most prestigious film awards and as a visual artist it is worth mentioning that his work is exhibited in many of the most important museums in the world.

As the documentary explains, Schnabel became known for his plate painting and critics have defined his work as playing a predominant role in the return of figurative painting, as well as having introduced the accumulation of material on less conventional supports such as velvet, old tarps, card for painting-collage and plates.

The interesting thing about this biopic is that it allows us to further understand the artistic and more personal figure of Schnabel. From his life in Brownsville (Texas) up to his arrival on the New York art scene in the 80s, including his film director career. The documentary, that is directed by Pappi Corsicato, has counted on the collaboration of stars such as Willem Dafoe, Bono or Al Pacino and begins when Schnabel prepares his dialogue with the Peter Brant Foundation in Connecticut. In it, we can see beautiful images of his family with different relatives bearing witness to who Schnabel is and allowing us to gain a better understanding of the New York artist.

As you will see, Julian Schnabel exudes charisma, a captivating energy and an impulsive personality that sweeps away anyone in his path. This “Renaissance man” is an Artist with a capital A, and his creative impulse has allowed him to diversify what he does: music, painting, sculpture, furniture design, photography and film-making. He is also very prolific and has an incredible ability to produce colossal works of art.

About his training and his fascinating artistic path

He graduated as a Bachelor of Fine Arts, BFA, at Houston University and was part of the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, having presented his application in a very original manner: he included slides of his work sandwiched between two slices of bread… and… he was accepted immediately!

“When I was young, all I wanted to be was a great artist, but I didn’t even know what art was supposed to be.”

Although Schnabel has worked as a cook, he presented his first individual exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 1975, and four years later, he had his first individual exhibition at the Mary Boone Gallery, where his work was sold in advance. From then on, he reaped success and admiration and, in fact, in 1989 OR 1980 he participated in the Venice Biennale with Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz.

In addition, from 1989 to 2012 he has held many exhibitions in art galleries and museums all over the world, some as well known as the Tate Gallery (1982); the Whitney Museum of American Art (1987 and 1988); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1988); or the Fundació Joan Miró (1995). And since 2012, he has held 32 individual art exhibitions! These have been held in large art galleries and museums such as: Guy Pieters Gallery (Belgium); Contemporary Fine Arts (Berlin); Centro Italiano Arte Contemporanea (Foligno, Italia); Gagosian Gallery (New York); NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale (Florida); Aros Aarhus Kunstmuseum (Denmark); Musée d’Orsay (Paris) or Legion of Honor Museum (San Francisco), amongst many others. 

Schnabel’s style is characterised by the use of large-scale paintings, in which both abstract and figurative elements are combined and he uses materials as diverse as plaster, wax, photographs, velvet or ceramics. This is why his paintings are often conferred sculptural properties.

He is currently still working, and, in fact, the Pace Gallery (New York) accommodates two of his individual exhibitions. And he recently carried out a publication for Taschen which will be published this year and he has designed the first Premium art edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper with his powerful, poetic, provocative declaration on the state of the US: “Look to the Future”. It was published on the 22 of  September this year and from the cover, one perceives the political dimension to his work and his desire for art to inspire action and generate a better future.

In the same way, another remarkable point in the film is that you can see that fame and fortune welcomed Schnabel from the start. In fact, his old friend Jeff Koons confirmed his stunning rise to the Olympus of the best galleries:

“No other young artist has had this success.”

Because Schnabel always knew. Art was his thing. To be on the cover of Artforum was one of the goals he set himself and achieved, and in this case, ahead of when he had predicted. He managed it in 1981, when he had already received the backing of Leo Castelli, the gallery owner that discovered Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein.

Another thing that we liked most in the documentary was to see him in action, painting his work in large format, both in his Montauk studio in the Hamptons and at the director Héctor Babenco’s  São Paulo house. Marvellous! And although we wouldn’t want to choose, we can say that, out of all his work, we were most fascinated by his Velvet Paintings; Paintings on Found Materials y Surf Paintings series.

Palazzo Chupi

Located in Greenwich Village, the bohemian neighbourhood par excellence, in west Manhattan with the River Hudson in the background, we find this wonderful 7 floor 15,000 Sq.m. venetian palace in red stucco where some of his six children still live. It had previously been a stable, a perfume factory and a water treatment plant successively.

The truth is that Palazzo Chupi is like his architectural autobiography:  a collage of materials, styles and objects that make up this lovely collage in which his own pictorial language is manifest.

Schnabel’s films

The film also shows his shootings, such as Before Night Falls, where he tells the story of the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, that introduced our admired Javier Bardem to the world while he tells us that his film-making school were The Godfather and Spartacus, which he has seen hundreds of times.

“Painting for me is like breathing. It’s what I do all the time. I am a painter. My films are an extension of my paintings.”

We’ll say no more, we recommend that you venture into his universe through this documentary: “Julian Schnabel: a private portrait”, available on Filmin and Netflix.

(*) Pictures and artworks by Julian Schnabel: 1.”Untitled (Goodbye Mike Kelly)”, 2012, inkjet print, oil, ink on polyester, 129 x 130.25 inches (327.7 x 330.8 cm). 2.”Adieu Batista”, 1985, oil on backdrop, 95×166 inches (241.3 x 421.6 cm); 3.”Untitled (Albondigas el Ultimo Climax)”, 1992, modeling paste, oil, suede on dropcloth, 96 x 120 inches (243.8 x 304.8 cm). 4.”Portrait of a Girl”, oil, plates and bonds on wood, 96 x 84 inches (243.8 x 213.4 cm). 5.”Large Girl with No Eyes”, 2001, oil and wax on canvas, 162 x 148 inches (411.5 x 375.9 cm).