BEVERLY HILLS, CA.- Gagosian Gallery will present Julian Schnabel, on view February 21 - March 22, 2008. Art is not leisure; art is a utilitarian thing that people can use to find a way into their interior life. So many people thought that Marcel Duchamp was anti-painting but the fact was that this gave birth to all sorts of different things, whether they are called paintings or not. He created a hybrid that was more specific to our needs as contemporary people. --Julian Schnabel
Schnabel's mythic yet controversial career is rooted in his ability to morph and change using a vast alchemy of sources and materials composed and distributed across surface and support in defiance of the very notions of moderation, rationality, and order. His baroque attitude is embodied in audaciously scaled paintings that, over the course of time, have combined oil painting and collage techniques; classical pictorial elements inspired by historical art and neo-expressionist features; abstraction and figuration. Tackling appropriately big themes such as sexuality, obsession, homage, suffering, redemption, death, and belief, he has employed a startling range of materials including broken plates, diverse textiles such as Kabuki theater backdrops, tarpaulins, and velvet; thickly applied paint and viscous resin; digital reproduction; and a plethora of found images, names, and fragments of language.
And yet, despite the grand bravado, a certain sense of vulnerability, even tenderness, pervades the heft of Schnabel's work. Nowhere is this more evident than in his latest 'paintings,' which are, in fact, digitally printed blow-ups of hospital x-rays dating from the early twentieth century. By simply electing a new, greatly enlarged scale for his subject-in a gesture that foregrounds certain enduring Duchampian strategies in his general aesthetic approach--he has transformed scientific documents into epic yet weightless figures where the full traces of time and use (scratches, spots, stains) are embedded in cool and depthless reproduction. These fragments of a giant skeleton pelvis, femur, cervical spine-- appear as little more than skeins of smoke or dust looming on sheer , vertical surfaces. Restraining any desire to further elaborate his subject, he presents the ineffable mysteries of the human body with a light and austere touch, as if to underscore the basic, common, and ineluctable facts of human frailty.
Schnabel stumbled across the x-rays last year in an uninhabited house in Berck-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast, where he had just finished directing his latest feature film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the best-selling memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby. And as such these new pictures are pieces not simply of art but of argument, his pointed way of saying that while his life as a filmmaker may be threatening to eclipse his life as a painter, this new film--with its themes of transcendence and the relationship between art, life, and death, as well as its lush, experimental style that is so evidently informed by a highly evolved artistic sensibility--has reinforced the importance of painting in his own life.
Julian Schnabel was born in New York in 1951 and studied at the University of Texas (1969-73) and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (1973-74). He lives in New York and San Sebastian, Spain. His first major exhibition was at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, in 1975. Since then, he has been the subject of countless exhibitions, including McClain Gallery, Houston, Works on Paper; Palazzo Venezia, Rome, Summer Paintings 1976-2006; Rotonda della Besana, Milan, Summer Paintings 1976-2006; Schloss Derneburg, Recent Paintings; Tabacalera Donostia, San Sebastian, Summer; The Beijing World Art Museum, Beijing, China. His work is included in major international museums and private collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Broad Art Foundation, Los Angeles; Reina Sofia, Madrid, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.