Julian Schnabel is an American painter whose style was part of the Neo-Expressionist movement of the 1980s. His works with their excessive mixed media, self-consciously gestural brushwork, and crude figuration aligned with the trend of the era to push back against the previous decade’s reliance on minimalism and conceptualism.
Pascin Pig Passin Time is part of his broken plate series of paintings. Inspired by the trencadís (or broken tile mosaic) of Gaudí, this series of works brought theatricality and process back to mainstream painting. The broken ceramics give Schnabel an assertive and textural surface in which to create large-scale works that captured the brash and audacious period of the 1980s.
Colossal would be an understatement for Nicknames of Maitre D’s, in size and in concept. The triptych is a riot of oil, dirt, and modeling paste on velvet, a favorite textile of Schnabel. The velvet absorbs light, making way for luminescent color, while also speaking to the era’s postmodern embrace of kitsch in its reference to velvet paintings. Nicknames of Maitre D’s recalls his memories in nightclubs like Max’s Kansas City and Bhavanda Lounge where the viewer can see references to neon tubes, jukeboxes, dancing, and graffiti. Writ large in the painting are the European influences on Schnabel – Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, and Joseph Beuys – in his use of unconventional material and layered imagery. In short, this painting is exemplary of Schnabel’s process and style, right down to the humorous reference that he is in the know having learned the nicknames of maître d’s.
The two Untitled paintings represent another evolution in Schnabel’s process. Continuing to paint on unusual supports, in this case dropcloth, Schnabel has matured into a deeper exploration of paint and materiality combining oil, resin, gesso, fabric, and leather.
Monumental in scale, Schnabel’s paintings break free of conventional restraint. With his mercurial and alchemical vision and through unconventional materials, he transforms his paintings into edifices brimming with symbolism while still aligning itself with the grand European tradition of painting.