Meeting Julian Schnabel


"My paintings take up room, they make a stand. People will always react to that. Some people get inspired, others get offended. But, that's good. I like that."

- Julian Schnabel

Last week I was extremely honored to have been nominated and awarded a scholarship to attend the Masters Painting Workshop with Julian Schnabel at the Museum of Fort Lauderdale. (Thanks FAU Professors, for believing in me!)

Let me preface my experience by saying this, I did my fair share of research on Julian Schnabel prior to the workshop on Thursday. So if you are currently unaware of the honors that precede him, let me summarize:

+ B.F.A University of Houston,

+ Independant Study Program at Whitney Museum of Art

+ General success both in the States and abroad since the late 70s. He became famous for his plate paintings in the 80's. Here's one of his second wife, Olatz López Garmendia, that I saw in person at the MoAFL

+He may be most celebrated, however, for his work as a film-maker. He directed Basquiat (1996) , Before Night Falls (2001), and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

For all the critical acclaim about his professional life, Schnabel is just as famous for his personality and relationships with beautiful women. He dated beautiful Italo-Palestinian journalist/novelist/Miral screenwriter Rula Jebreal, for whom he left his beautiful Spanish actress/second wife, Olatz López Garmendia. He has 3 adult children with his first wife, twin boys with his second wife and a baby with his most recent girlfriend, the beautiful Danish model May Andersen – three years older than myself. I was able to see an enormous portrait of May Andersen, pregnant, that was exhibited for the first time at the Museum of Fort Lauderdale. His words, "That's a portrait of May Anderson. We have a son together who is one and a half but we aren't together anymore." Here it is:

Artstory.org hit the nail on the head when they described him in this way: Schnabel arrived on the New York art scene with a precocious vengeance. He acquired almost immediate renown for his outlandish behavior, outspokenness, and egotism. Reviled by some and encouraged, even adored, by others, Schnabel seemed to be reinstituting the cult of the bohemian artist as a means of shameless self-promotion. Critics contended that his work was judged less on its potential merit than on the artist's larger-than-life, charismatic, and idiosyncratic persona.

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SO! knowing all of this going into the workshop, what did I think of Julian Schnabel and more importantly, what did he think of my work?

1. He really loves wearing his silk pajamas, like a lot. At 62, you might think, ah when a person is a certain age they just do whatever they want! In this case, I think Julian was born doing whatever he wants and it meant wearing a blue pajama outfit, white plastic sandals, a trucker hat, those signature glasses and a track suit with the image of one his paintings on the back. I felt over dressed.

I will say this, he alluded to his dress code in one of his self portraits while we received a PERSONAL TOUR of Cafe Dolly (.i.e. COOLEST EXPERIENCE EVER), which I found refreshing. He could poke fun at himself, which I enjoyed.

2. He talked about his family a lot. I sort of presumed an egomaniac wouldn't talk about his personal life much but he brought up his children often, showed us pictures of them on his phone and I presume took a phone call from one of them during critique rounds.

3. As mentioned earlier, we received a private tour of Cafe Dolly at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale by Julian, which was in the process of still going up. This was a really amazing experience. It's so rare that you receive a firsthand account of an artist’s entire body of work. The Cafe Dolly show included works by Picabia, J.F. Willumsen, and Schnabel. It was something special, guys, really. We also had the wonderful experience of meeting the curator: two awesome and hilarious guys from Denmark, Claus and Christian (of course). J.F. Willumsen was completely unknown to me so it was a total treat to learn about him as well. I was really inspired by his use of color in this rather bad iphone pic:

4. We had a short period of time to meet with Julian one on one at the end of the day. The instructions were sort of vague on what we were to bring to the workshop, which was "a piece we just started or were currently working on". I had a nearly blank canvas when I arrived and worked on this during the couple hours we worked independently.

Truthfully, I was 100% nervous that the Schnabel gavel would be thrown at my painting. I'm working on some more painterly and honest (losing the masquerade?) self-portraits. It’s new. It’s scary but good scary. I didn't bring images of any of my past work, like several other participants did - whoops. Also, instead of this being a one-on-one critique it was turning out to be an "everyone in the workshop, including the Director, Bonnie Clearwater and several of the instructors at the AutoNation Academy @ MoAFL following Julian". No Pressure. I was positioned at the end of the critiques and am meanwhile listening to some pretty harsh but not untrue criticisms from Julian: "This is a terrible drawing." "What, you mean the Basquiat knock off?" "Nothing about this is interesting to me."

He finally arrives at my painting and one, actually stops and looks at it for more than 30 seconds which is certainly saying something. He asked me several questions about the source of my material. I explained how I was staging my reference images. He said I could paint "well" or something similar and that he "liked my use of color." Shut. The. Front. Door! He also provided critique similar to those I’ve had with my Professors @ FAU, encouraging me to paint from life as much as possible. He also encourage me look at the nude painting he did of Vito (his oldest son), and see paintings in real life, not in pictures. All excellent suggestions.

PHEW! Quite the relief and then I believe I started breathing again.

5. Last and not least I was most impressed by Julian's perspective on figurative work merging with other styles. I often feel the artistic community wants to put "figurative" painters in a more traditional box. Given the long history of portrait painting, and the huge wave of experimentation and abstraction in the mid 20th century, it feels somewhat difficult to receive the same reception as a figure painter versus other “styles”. Julian encouraged experimentation, growth, and said, look if you don’t believe Clement Greenburg and his one truth, then don’t. It was really exciting hearing a contemporary painter, of both abstract and figurative work express that a division doesn’t have to exist. And hell, if you want to drop painting and make some award winning movies, then that’s cool too.

#julianschnabel #ashleygilbert #musuemofartfortlauderdale #cafedolly #ashleynicole #art #southflorida #miami

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