Julian Schnabel: Bridging An Unconventional Road Between Figurative And Abstraction

Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel’s new exhibition at “The Dairy” successfully accomplishes the rare act of combining abstraction and figurative painting all in one show. Its amalgam is enhanced by the use of photography (Ink jet printed canvases) and glossy resin.  In the 80s Schnabel’s use of unorthodox materials such as broken crockery and fibreglass created a controversy which led to a well earned place as seminal to the period.  In this new body of work Schnabel, again, is pushing the boundaries of the traditional conception of painting by using different materials, sizes and techniques, some applied to portraiture others to, as the artist describes, as ‘marking the canvas’.

His visual language is versatile and looking at paintings such as untitled (Self Portrait 2004) and Grotto 2013, a person wandering into the show could well imagine that the exhibition was created by two different artists. Like Gerhard Richter, Schnabel never struggles with the challenge of figurative vs abstraction in his lexicon.

However, this is exactly Schnabel’s strength as a painter and as an artist; the unconventional approach, the freedom and his courage as a creator, unbound by traditions, fear of acceptance, or financial and physical borders makes him refreshingly authentic and inspiring.

The spirit of his work acts as a poem to painting: to pain, to love, to life. His work is embedded with sexuality, self-observation, loneliness and memories. In his world- Everything is a reference, and art is a collection of fragments of existence of life or as he puts it: “ Anything is an excuse to make a painting”.

As gracefully as he bridges abstract and figurative work so does he manage to combine painful vulnerability moments with exploding violence. In “David and Goliath” (2011) Like Caravaggio, the artist depicts himself  as the decapitated head of the giant dripping with blood. It is held by “ David”  Aka- art dealer Marco Voena . The painting, made only using candle light, is a prime example of these contradictions; the violence is undercurrent- not only in the dripping bloody head, but the immense black shadow arising behind the dealer’s back, which looks like a tornado threatening to sweep the characters into an abyss of darkness. Yet, tongue in cheek, the dealer holding the artist’s head is an amusing scene- but like all jokes, bears the seed of truth.

Schnabel’s exhibition is courageous and authentic. It is the ‘real deal’, refreshing, surprising and challenging. He is a great master, who uncompromisingly possesses the ability to lull us back for a second or third look at the painted medium.
Words: Michal Cole Photo: PC Robinson © Artlyst 2014

Julian Schnabel  Every Angel Has A Dark Side Dairy Art Centre 7a Wakefield Street Bloomsbury London WC1N 1PG Opening hours: Wednesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays, 11am – 5pm