«I studied, outside of any systematic spirit and without
any preconceived idea, the art to the Ancients and
of the Moderns. I did not seek to imitate the ones or
to copy the others; my thought has not rather been
to reach the wasteful purpose of art for art's sake. No!
I have simply wanted to draw from the entire knowledge
of tradition the reasoned and independent feeling of
my own individuality.» Julian Schnabel, 2018
Julian Schnabel (1951)
Julian Schnabel was born on October 26, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York. When he was fourteen, the family moved to Brownsville, Texas, near the Mexican border. Schnabel studied at the University of Texas in Houston from 1969 to 1973, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. In 1973 he was accepted to the Whitney Museum’s Independent Studies Program in New York. For a while he worked as a sunglasses salesman, taxi driver, and cook. Later, he painted over or destroyed many of the works he created during this period. He met Blinky Palermo and Sigmar Polke, and visited the latter’s studio when he spent several months in Europe on his second trip to Europe in 1978. After a sojourn in Barcelona, he produced the first «Plate Paintings», whose fragmented, mosaic-like assemblage ultimately became an element that threaded its way through his entire body of work. Schnabel’s artistic breakthrough was also helped by his participation in the Venice Biennial in 1980, along with double exhibitions at Leo Castelli’s and Mary Boone’s in early 1981. Both of his solo shows at the Mary Boone Gallery in 1979 were hailed by art critics as «the return of painting.» He had already had his first show with Bischofberger in 1980. He was the youngest artist to exhibit at the legendary 1981 show, A New Spirit in Painting, at London’s Royal Academy. Thus began the unprecedented rise of a painter who did not try to hide his idiosyncrasies from the media.
In 1980 Schnabel began integrating materials such as velvet, or decaying, weathered wood or antlers into his large paintings. His first bronzes were made in 1982; starting in 1985, he began working on tarpaulins—waterproof, olive-green material made of heavy cotton and covered with a layer of vinyl. Besides ancient citations and symbols, white lettering became an important element of his style. After his first museum exhibitions in the early 1980s, a retrospective of his work toured Europe and America in 1987 and 1988. In order to produce his very large paintings, which were about 16 by 16 feet or larger, he began working for the first time in an outdoor studio in Montauk in 1988. In 1992 he started integrating photography into his material paintings. As a part of his holistic enterprise Schnabel began a career as a screenplay writer and movie director. His first film, Basquiat, was dedicated to his friend, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died prematurely in 1988. Made in 1996, it is primarily a portrait of the New York art scene centered on Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Dennis Hopper played the role of Bruno Bischofberger. In 2001 the artist won the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion for his film, Before Night Falls. In 2006 he received the directing prize at the Cannes Film Festival for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In 2019, he directed and produced At Eternity's Gaze, a biographical movie on the life of Van Gogh, played by Willem Dafoe.
Schnabel lives in New York.