Friday, June 3, 2011

Julian Schnabel

         Julian Schnabel,

                 The   Hirshhorn

                          and The Mother of D.J. Spooky

A feature in the “Eighties” magazine “Geo” introduced me to Julian Schnabel and his paintings. He was grouped with fellow artists Francesco Clemente, Donald Judd and Sandro Chia. The art scene had become a little stale and was looking for some fresh blood. Here it was in this feature/ pictorial. I was blown away by what I was seeing. I was completely on board with these new guys and prepared for the thrill ride of a new epoch. These young artists were dubbed “The Neo Expressionist. “

Their individual stars were rising and they would be joined by a host of others including Eric Fischl, Donald Sultan and Robert Longo.  The works of all were at a high level but one I was certain would be the star among the stars; that distinction went to Schnabel. The key was the way he was photographed; painting on the beach shoeless and shirtless as he confidently worked seemingly oblivious to the photographer. He was painting on a huge canvas laid out on an otherwise isolated   beach using a mop as a brush. All this as he studied his efforts from behind dark sun glasses.  An art star was born Schnabel was making waves and navigating them. As a surfer he was riding the waves of the ocean and with equal adeptness as an artist riding the waves of a successful career. The art world was at a fever pitch and rising in scale, materials, galleries, patrons and most of all prices.

Schnabel had joined the stable of another ascending star; gallerist Mary Boone (the one time protégé of Leo Castelli).  Schnabel’s “Plate Paintings” were heavily featured by Boone and were everything an artist dreams his work could be. They were original, they were amazing and they were selling. Later he would move on to other unorthodox materials as surface including velvet, wood and Egyptian boat sails.

Schnabel had the attention of the publishing world as well  including traditional art magazines like Art News, Art Forum and beyond with Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ and Premiere all writing about him. Sixty Minutes and Charlie Rose were talking to him. The “Shirtless Schnabel” was evolving into the “Pajama Schnabel.” The painter/sculptor was becoming the film maker/director. Beginning   with the movie “Basquiat” he hit the film world like a punch to the gut. The film would introduce the life and works of Jean Michel Basquiat to a larger audience along with illuminating the workings of the art market of the Nineteen Eighties. “Before Night Fall” would launch Spanish actor Javier Bardem into the American market. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” would garner Schnabel “Best Director” at Cannes and also an Oscar nomination

 His latest effort;”Miral” has won him greater respect as an artist who takes risks and ire in some camps who believe him wrong for his portrayal of the Palestinians as complete human beings. Schnabel’s films speak more to the man himself as humanitarian than do his paintings. Each of his film efforts have the common thread of believer in the human spirit and creativity to triumph. Sometimes the triumph comes from simply enduring. The reward being the act itself; of living of defiance of doing.

This year’s Spring Catalogue of events at DC’s Hirshhorn Museum announced that Julian Schnabel would make appearances on May twelfth and thirteenth. He was scheduled for two nights of talks on his own works and experiences along with his thought s on the art of Blinky Palermo. The Hirshhorn’s spring hosting of a retrospective of Palermo’s works provided a perfect platform for Schnabel. He had been a friend and admirer of Palermo. There would also be a screening of the Schnabel film “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” followed by discussion. This was a major opportunity that I couldn’t miss. The Hirshhorn’s lectures and other after hours events are traditionally free but tickets are required on a first come basis. The rarity of a crossover celebrity artist of Schnabel’s caliber caused tickets to disappear fast online. I would have to go hoping for the chance of getting in as a stand by.  It would be worth it for the chance of meeting an “A” list artist whose work I admired and enjoyed.
I arrived at the Hirshhorn about an hour early on the twelfth. There was already a small stand by line of about five people patiently waiting. The doors to the museum weren’t open at this time so there was time for some mingling.  I started a conversation with a prominate looking couple that happened to already have tickets. They were interesting and this promised to be a memorable evening. We were joined shortly by a beautiful, stylishly dressed woman of a certain age. She also had a ticket. I was at least in good company. This woman told me she was “The Mother of DJ Spooky.”
Spooky had also been featured at the Hirshhorn recently.  In March he was the curator of an exhibition that I had submitted one of my short videos to. My entry had been rejected (there were only about five hundred other submissions). I told her this in a humorous but direct way “YOUR SON REJECTED MY WORK!!!” It happens…we laughed and we continued to talk about life, art and Julian Schnabel. As we talked and waited I happen to look as a group comes out of the revolving door entrance. I’m amazed to see that Julian Schnabel is among them. I tell Spooky's Mom “ look there he is…It’s Schnabel.”  He and his group are heading for a SUV parked on Independence Ave. She says “I have to talk to him…he knows my son”
She follows in hot pursuit and calls to him. I’m not sure that he’ll stop but he does. They begin to talk and within seconds I am right there with them and I join in the conversation. Julian politely tells us that he has to leave for a few minutes but he will be back and we can talk later. (Note that I am already on a first name basis). At this point I’m pretty much walking on air and I give thanks to the higher power that has made all this possible. Spooky’s Mom; who is actually Rosemary Reed Miller tells me when the doors open for ticket holders that she will save me a seat. She is much accomplished in her own right as a writer and fashion entrepreneur. I’m able to get in and I joined  Mrs. Miller downstairs in “The Ring Auditorium.”

I was fortunate to be able to attend both nights. They were each amazing. In person Schnabel is engaging, funny, informative and relaxed. Yes; he was wearing pajamas. I would have been disappointed if he had not.

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