Julian Schnabel: I'm Like a Cave Person—With a Website
Raised in Texas, director Julian Schnabel began his career as an artist, holding his first solo exhibition in 1975 at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. Schnabel became a key figure in the Neo-expressionism artistic movement, utilizing an audacious style that was often described as raw, evocative, and unapologetic. Throughout the 1980s Schnabel received international media attention for his "plate paintings"—large-scale paintings set on broken ceramic plates.
Schnabel's filmmaking career began in 1996 when he wrote and directed “Basquiat,” a biopic about the life of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He followed that up with another biopic, 2000's “Before Night Falls,” about Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. In 2007, Schnabel directed an adaptation of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and became paralyzed in every part of his body except for a single eyelid. The film screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Golden Palm award and won the festival's Best Director award. The film also won Schanbel a Golden Globe for Best Director and was nominated for four Academy Awards.
His latest film “Miral” tackles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, telling the story of an orphaned Palestinian girl who finds herself drawn into the struggle.
Julian Schnabel: I think the internet can be very useful. People have websites. In fact, I have a website, and I'm 59 years-old. That must be really stupid. it’s a huge, important innovation, but does it have anything to do with what I do, me, Julian Schnabel? Not really. I'm more like a cave person. I'm actually painting something with my own hands. It doesn’t go through the airwaves in invisible speed and end up in somebody’s head. It’s about you looking at something and you finding something that's inside of yourself.
The internet helps with education, making people more aware of certain things, but, really, can you get anything on the internet? I could think of something that I could say right now that you couldn’t get on the internet: I’d like to have a plastic awning from a butcher shop in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. When it’s rolled up it’s red, but where it has been exposed to cover the window of the butcher shop the sun—the sun needs to bleach it so it’s ocher, it’s kind of an ocher and dirt color, and the image of that will look like the New York skyline. I think it would be very hard to order one of those.
Those are the kinds of things you have to go there, see them, find them and then get ten guys to help you disengage it from the metal structure that’s hanging over that butcher shop, and your kids have to watch while it’s very boring and it’s hot out there as the people fold it up, and it smells like meat, but you stick it in your suitcase. And maybe you could get it back to New York, stick it on a stretcher and make a painting of it, put some white on it, write a word on it and then you’ve got your art and then somebody can look at it and see if it means anything to them. You look at what’s not generic and you look at something that becomes a palimpsest, some kind of stasis that can include things that are nameable and unnamable and these unnamable things that I mentioned before, the things that I try to put in or that I put into the movies, it's like silence. You sense it sometimes and you think, "I feel more alive."
So as an artist what do I really do? I point and say, "Did you see that, can you see that?"
Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd
The artist and filmmaker muses on the usefulness and limitations of the Internet, revealing, in the process, his philosophy about art and the role of the artist in our digital age.
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