Dairy Art Centre presents American artist Julian Schnabel’s first major solo exhibition of paintings in the UK for nearly 15 years. The exhibition brings together new and rarely seen works spanning primarily the last ten years. Now known as much for his critically acclaimed films as for his art, this exhibition is both a reevaluation and a celebration of Julian Schnabel the painter — his primary occupation.
Extracts from an essay by David Thorp specially commissioned to accompany the exhibition follows:
At first sight this body of work covers a spectrum of abstraction and figuration but these paintings resist categorisation and refuse to sit comfortably within such conventions. There are figurative elements within his abstracts and abstract elements within his figuration. But while these paintings exist in a fluid world of images that shift in and out of different methodologies there are unifying qualities – in painterly terms Schnabel’s fundamental concerns are a love of materials associated with pictorial space and surface.
A painting on a polyester digital surface like The Unknown Painter and the Muse He Will Never Meet, 2010 can be read in several ways. The contrast between the young artist striving to get on (the portrait is that of a young painter friend of one of Schnabel’s sons) and the hugely wealthy Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned has a particular resonance, the obvious relationship between money, power and art and the romantic ideal of the artist. The painting also works using the old surrealist technique of incongruous poetic association then, spatially, as the painted portrait sits on the surface and the digital portrait falls back into deep pictorial space or, as an abstract, where the dark forms of the digital image sweep and flow behind the seemingly unfinished portrait; for Schnabel a painting is finished when there’s enough information in it.
On another digital surface Untitled (BEZ), 2011, Schnabel seems to be painting noise; creating sound for the mute dancer behind the Happy Mondays whose name is in the title. And in Untitled (Chinese) 2011, the paint reveals to the eye of the beholder tiny spontaneous references to landscape; villages, rivers and mountains, that could provide the setting for the figure in the digital image behind. Here Schnabel’s opportunity to move away from a painting when working on it and then come in very close offers a way in which the painterly gesture can be reduced to expose the minutia of order within chaos.
Schnabel sees opportunities for paintings everywhere; an encounter with Lou Reed is the subject of I Always Thought of Myself as Taller; anger at the plight of young models in the fashion industry in Fifteen yrs Old and Surrounded by Pigs, as his inclusion of text allows the free flow of his imagination to express thoughts and feelings. In these two works and elsewhere in Untitled (Amor Misericodeioso), 2004, there is an association of images and words that create a bizarre poetic relationship between the painting and the religious quote como os yo he amado (as I have loved you). Schnabel sees potential paintings everywhere and opportunities for painting in things he comes across by chance. Schnabel was painting Untitled, 2006 on the day Nam June Paik died and has included an homage to him in the painting.
In Untitled (Self Portrait), 2004 Schnabel demonstrates a virtuosity with the medium that contrasts with the other self-portrait in the exhibition painted ten years later painted much more loosely. As well as self-portraits, Schnabel chooses to paint portraits of those he loves or whose faces he finds interesting. In the four portraits of artists in the exhibition, including the two of Schnabel, each figure is in a similar position with the back of the canvas they are working on in the foreground of the image but each is executed in a different way. The two self portraits along with other works on show appear behind a layer of gloss resin which creates a hard surface that allows the viewer to penetrate the painting by looking into deep pictorial space but returns their view to a thin outer reflective coating that accentuates the physicality of the object; a physicality that is further emphasised by their heavy frames.