Julian Schnabel in conversation with AGO curator of modern and contemporary art David Moos.
Julian Schnabel was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His first solo show was at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston in 1976, but it was with his 1979 exhibition at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York that Schnabel first asserted his presence as the figurehead of new painting declaring its unbridled possibilities. Retrospectives of his work have been mounted by Tate Gallery, London (1983), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1987), Museo Nacionale Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2004), and Centre Pompidou among many others. He made his cinematic debut in 1996 with his account of the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which starred Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Gary Oldman and Dennis Hopper. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly earned him Best Director both at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes, and four Academy Award nominations including best director.
Recorded: September 15, 2010 @ Baillie Court, Art Gallery of Ontario
Click to play:
Julian Schnabel’s second film portrays Cuban writer and poet Reinaldo Arenas (1943–1990), and his struggle for sexual, political and artistic freedom. Viewers are transported to Castro’s Cuba of the 1960s and 1970s, when individual liberties were first celebrated and then violently suppressed. Arenas’s life as a gay writer who refuses to conform leads to his imprisonment and torture. Schnabel depicts Arenas as both victim and survivor, tracing his eventual escape to New York and his battle with AIDS. Through it all, Arenas is always writing, his typewriter a faithful companion and powerful weapon.
Based on Arenas’s autobiography, Before Night Falls won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Venice Film Festival, while Javier Bardem took the Coppa Volpi for best actor. Bardem also earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for his moving performance as Arenas. Schnabel also cast Hector Babenco, the renowned director of Pixote (1980), and friends such as Sean Penn (who played Arenas’s peasant father) and Johnny Depp (in dual roles as a drag queen and a vicious army interrogator).
Schnabel states, “Films become part of who you are, the way that books you read or the paintings you see become a part of who you are.” This painting speaks to the influence of Italian cinema on Schnabel’s work, as does the adjacent Shoeshine (for Vittorio de Sica). Accattone, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s acclaimed debut film from 1961, is a graphic portrayal of a scrounging, self-absorbed pimp surviving within a postwar realm of darkness and death. The film launched Pasolini’s reputation for combining gritty realism and stark visuals to tell emotionally powerful stories. Schnabel’s explicit reference to the film shows his desire to use painting to respond to the cinematic images of passion, blood and desperation that continue to play in his own imagination long after the film has ended.
Audio: Listen to Julian Schnabel discuss this work and Shoeshine (For Vittorio de Sica):
“In movies there are parallel lives that can run alongside each other like dreams and out of those dreams you can find a configuration that has meaning.” —Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel’s first film was his way of recuperating an intense and important friendship with another artist. It follows the meteoric rise and tragic demise of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died in 1988 at age 27 of a heroin overdose. In one poignant scene, the troubled artist Basquiat cocks his head and peers up towards a large painting with the letters JMB carefully inscribed in its corner. Gary Oldman, playing Schnabel’s alter ego Albert Milo, softly states, “I painted that for a friend of mine who died.” Through the art of film, Schnabel enacts what many of us desire: to be able to not only speak to the dead, but to also say what you could not the first time around.
Basquiat is a vivid portrait of the downtown New York art scene in the 1980s, and of the personal and professional relationships within that world that supported Schnabel as a painter. Collaborating on the screenplay and teaching himself the techniques of cinema, Schnabel’s first foray into the world of movie-making laid the foundation for him to continue his career in film.
Julian Schnabel’s Norma (Pool Painting for Norma Desmond) is on display for a limited time as part of the exhibition Julian Schnabel: Art and Film.
born New York City, New York, United States, 1951 Norma (Pool Painting for Norma Desmond)
oil and plaster on canvas
Collection Hermes Trust, UK (Courtesy of Francesco Pellizzi)
From his earliest works onward, Schnabel has referenced great films that grapple with issues of life and death. This painting refers to the Billy Wilder classic Sunset Boulevard (1950). The film famously opens with a corpse floating in a pool, and a voice-over telling us of its discovery at the Hollywood mansion of silent-film star Norma Desmond. It turns out that the corpse and narrator are one and the same – a down-and-out screenwriter played by William Holden. In response to this scene’s posthumous narration, Schnabel says, “There’s something subliminal and also transcendental about that moment. Achieving something that can only be achieved in art: where somebody can talk to you after death, without moving their lips while they’re face down in the pool… The poetic is stronger than what seems to be the limits of our natural bodies…and by building that into [the painting’s] title, it is saying, ‘Yes, I’m going to die, too, but this thing is going to last. Just like your voice is lasting, your words are with me here.’”
Audio: Listen to Julian Schnabel discuss this work:
Artist Book Signing for Julian Schnabel: Art and Film
Wednesday, September 15, 5 – 6 pm
American art superstar Julian Schnabel has spent his life
pushing the limits of painting and crossing artistic boundaries
as an award-winning filmmaker. A major retrospective
currently on view at the AGO examines the connections
between painting and film in Schnabel’s work.
Meet Julian Schnabel at shopAGO on September 15 and
pick up your autographed copy of Julian Schnabel:
Art and Film, just published by the AGO.
Canadian basketball superstar Steve Nash has generously lent a painting from his collection to the AGO. Now this just isn’t any old painting, it’s a commissioned portrait of Steve’s twin daughters Bella and Lola. And it (of course), isn’t by just any old artist, but his friend Vito’s father, Julian Schnabel. Check out this video to hear Steve and Julian talk about the day the painting was painted, and what it was like trying to paint 2 very active 3 year olds. It was installed at the AGO in late April, and you can find it in Gallery 123.
Also, since the NBA playoffs are on right now (and the Raptors are out), we’d just like to say – go Suns! Steve is playing amazing basketball right now, don’t you think?