The painter and acclaimed director of The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Julian Schnabel visited Tate Modern, where his work Humanity Asleep 1982 formed part of a new display of paintings from the 1980s.
We caught up with him as he encountered the display for the first time, and asked him about his experiments with surface (this one’s made of broken crockery), and how it feels to see the work today.
Julian chatting to the curator: And all these paintings are so radically different. Yeah. They are not, I mean, the idea of – we could talk about this Neo-Expressionism – it’s a joke. Yeah. It’s a, it’s a… it’s shorthand. It’s a wrapping… But do we have a guy? They should turn this around and we should start, because this is all good. Julian Schnabel The painting that I’m standing in front of is a plate painting entitled Humanity Asleep, and I painted it in New York City in 1982. That’s actually a head of Francesco Clemente – that’s next to some other kind of head that doesn’t have a face on it, and it seems he’s on a raft and there’s some kind of archangel on top of him, and it says ‘humanity asleep’ on this little circle over there. In this particular painting there is Francesco and then there’s this other head next to him that’s kind of not really described, and I like to think that people look for other versions of themselves in their work, in other places, and so that’s why there’s two heads. Two heads are better than one… Well, my paintings certainly are beyond logic. They are not literal illustrations of the title. Lots of times I’ll just title things whatever comes to mind, and it’s a form of identifying the painting. There was a plate painting called The Walk Home. There was no figure in it or anything like that, but I imagined it was what Van Gogh might have seen on the walk home on a very cold, bright day in Arles in the middle of the winter. I think that Joseph Beuys, in a lot of ways, was the father of a lot of things, and he took things that weren’t art materials and put them into his work. For somebody like Clement Greenberg, who was a formalist, he thought that all these things were extra and unnecessary to what a painting was supposed to be. For my part, I felt like there had to be a reintroduction of language into painting. Not language in the most literal sense, but including things that had been excluded because of formalism. And so for me, I was looking for a new way to make a surface, and I had an epiphany when I was at the Park Guell by Gaudi in 1978, and thought maybe by breaking plates and gluing it to an armature I could make a surface that I hadn’t seen before. I think sometimes people think that if you’re making movies, and because they are much more a popular kind of thing, they don’t see paintings, sometimes, or they think, oh maybe he stopped painting. But that’s not true. It’s very nice that it’s seen the light of day for a little bit here. Feels fine. Feels good. I’m going to… I hadn’t really had a chance to look at it yet, but I’m not embarrassed.