A superstar of the art world, Julian Schnabel, famous for his work as much as the foremost one who suffered the art market crash, has returned among the British art crowd this spring with his UK comeback exhibition at Dairy Art Center in London entitled Every Angel Has a Dark Side. Even the title of the show suggests the extraction of the artist’s innermost pains, in the best manner of expressionism, to which the master stays true.
After 15 year pause, Schnabel brings to London some of his rarely shown and recent works, created in the course of the past ten years. Opened in April, the presentation of the famous painter’s dark side closes this Sunday, on July 27, 2014, leaving a very short time to be caught.
Although he’s widely acclaimed as filmmaker (Schnabel wrote and directed the movie about Basquiat, among other absolutely phenomenal cinematic work), the acclaimed painter prefers to refer to himself simply as - painter. Painting is primary occupation, one he cannot live without, continuously engaging himself in visual arts, even if he wasn’t exhibiting. Hence, the yet unseen body of work. The at the Dairy Art Center was prepared for a long time, negotiated and contemplated over a period of no less than four years. The result is the series of work, essentially pertinent to Schnabel, following his original neo-expressionist ideas, but dressed in a slightly different suit.
The first impression of the show is made by the monumental scale of some of the works, such as his imposing self-portrait from 2004. Schnabel depicted himself in an oddly clashing palette, deliberately choosing eerie chromatism and thick paste. His expression is grim, as he turns towards the canvas violently, decisive in rummaging it.
Another piece, perhaps even more dramatic, is the artist’s interpretation of the biblical David and Goliath, painted in 2011, walking the steps of many masters of art history. This is in fact the compressed narrative of Schnabels hurt over his relationship with his former dealer Leo Castelli, who is the David in the painting, while the decapitated Goliath is in fact Schnabel’s gory depiction of self. The excruciating climax of the painting, just as the pasty, opaque palette, are taken from expressionist tradition, while the thematics are pertinent to the novel chapter of the movement. The painting is dull, humorless, tragic, without a glimpse of sarcasm or wit, it tells of the author’s agony alone. For those unfamiliar with the history of so darkly depicted relationship, Castelli and Schnabel collaborated in the early 1980s, making a fortune together, but their separation was anything but amicable, aching the artist even three decades later.
Another eye-catching piece at this mini-retrospective is the Girl With No Eyes, a portrait of an all-American blonde puritan, negated with two violent, thick strokes of black paint, covering her eyes completely. Denying himself and anyone else the observation his model’s true character, Schnabel erases any trace of humanity in her, transforming this portrait into an abstracted concept. His actions reflect somewhat of his neo-expressionist colleagues, such as Baselitz or Kiefer.
Provocative as ever, the exhibition of Julian Schnabel does exhibit coherency in topic, as it’s predominantly populated by portraiture. Subject to serious criticism, Every Angel Has a Dark Side is actually quite an energetic comeback, bringing to the public what can be expected of Schnabel - a thrusting, puckering, bashing rendering of the canvas, putting himself and his very personal perceptions in focus, proclaiming angst as if he time-travelled to the peaking era of [abstract] expressionism.