It’s not difficult to make links between young painters currently working today and Julian Schnabel. The improvisatory, often deconstructive approach to the canvas as such pervades much of the medium’s current practice, and as if by some tacit understanding, few artists can be seen at as many shows of young painters as Schnabel himself, a man who seems invested not only in the next generation of New York artists (his patronage of the BHQF, for example, among others), but also in his impact on them.
Schnabel’s current show at Gagosian Gallery, then, View of Dawn in the Tropics, is a striking look back at a set of defining canvases for the artist; a tightly curated series of works using tarpaulins, sailcloth, velvet, and other unorthodox materials in conjunction with a sudden, perfunctory approach to putting paint across these surfaces. Throughout, Schnabel’s concern with where to draw the line in contemporary painting marks his pieces as an exchange between the historical roots of abstraction with his own impulses towards time, material and execution. Schnabel slathers paint and resin across the works, so much so that they seem to sag with the weight, or slathers the works with minimal splashes, mixed together with a selective daubing of color. In others, Schnabel marks his works with bold-faced text, stretching them to monumental height by sewing strips of fabric together, and leaving the seams as a creative element of its own.
If there were a focus to be gleaned from the works here, Schnabel’s product seems wholly indebted to a fascination with texture, with the myriad possibilities of assembling the picture plane, culling together a set of various materials with their own inherent behaviors and reactions to mark-making, and in turn covering them with any number of possible surfaces, from light coatings to bubbling puddles, to pieces of fabric affixed to the surface with paint. Even in his three largest works, the enormous, show-stopping trio of pieces from his set of works Los Patos del Buen Retiro, located in the back of the gallery, the final product appears as a sketchbook of sorts for Schnabel’s various techniques and gambits, either with a brush or bucket.
The works on view at Gagosian are a strong look into Schnabel’s practice while he was at the height of his output, and welcome a second look at the potentials for painting that he uncovered in his practice. Returning to a focus on the interaction between paint and surface, the essential interaction of oils and acrylics with the fabrics stretched underneath them, Schnabel’s work welcomes a new mode of abstraction, embracing his material at its most preliminary stages, and working from there.
View of Dawn in the Tropics is on view through May 31st.
— D. Creahan