I learned about Julian decades ago. I remember his coming out in 1979 when he showed at Mary Boone and Castelli. Out of nowhere, his fame rose with a cosmic boom. His meteoric rise to celebrity status included the high life of the 80's and pals the likes of Warhol and Basquait. Like being glued to naughty paragraphs in tabloids, I would climb into art magazines looking at his broken plate paintings and read the gossipy words about the painter. I was fascinated.
Notre Dame, 1979
oil, plates, bondo on wood, 90" x 108" 12", 1979
Over the years, that same art magnetism that drew me to his early work slowly flipped to the magnet's other end. I became repelled. The more I read about him the more I started to develop this picture in my head of the type of person he was. I have never met him, but so much has been written about him and I read a lot of it.
Much of the text about Julian as a man is unflattering. Phrases like arrogant artist, rocky relationships, name-dropper, narcissistic persona, and bad boy pepper reviews about him. Yet in those same articles words like mythical, legendary, and phenomenon are used freely and often. It makes me think Julian started to believe his own press (at least the complimentary parts). This could explain his braggadocios. As his star rose so quickly in the 80's he became a primary purveyor of self promotional hype and puffery. Some report he even stated "I'm the closest thing to Picasso...." This kind of talk didn't help to build his reputation as a humble guy.
This caused a backlash. Consequently like the disappearing vapor of a meteorite, Schnabel's fame became nebulous and dispersed over the past decades. Yet the urge to pull him down off the pedestal still continues today. In a recent Hyperallergic review by John Yau mentions unattractive traits of Julian's painting practice.
"The problem with Schnabel’s work is that his marks and actions are made by someone who is easily satisfied by everything he does, which makes what he does an inadvertent parody of genius. Some artists, like Matisse, will work very hard to make everything look easy, while others believe that, thanks to their innate gifts, everything is easy."
I suppose this is exactly the reason I felt uncomfortable writing about him. I was riding on the bandwagon that waves the banner "Schnabel is a Pompous Dweeb!". However, I think my feelings go deeper. Even though he does come off as a pretentious jerk at times, I still love his work. He is experiencing a resurrection of sorts now. Currently, he has work up at Gagosian Gallery. After watching this James Kalm video, I was reminded of those early days of excitement and interest in his work. Also, I forgive him for being so supercilious. I think I would have become uppity too if I had been anointed as a member of art royalty back in those days. I get it now.
Julian Schnabel A View Of Dawn In The Tropics: Paintings 1989
Click pic to watch
Julian Schnabel: In The Course of Seven Days
One more thing I will admit. I think I have always been jealous of artists like Julian. As I watch this video of him working on humungous, outsize canvases with giant paintbrushes, I wonder what it would be like to have endless resources to make any kind of art and know it will be shown.
It must be nice.