Message is the medium

Lisa Rovner: You’ve been at the center of the art world for a long time,
how has it changed since your first show at Mary Boone, in 1981?

Julian Schnabel: In recent years it’s become all about money.  Things are judged by the value. People look at art today and think: “That’s expensive,” “This is going up.” That doesn’t have anything to do with what it is.  If something’s expensive, it doesn’t mean that it’s good. I love being somebody that makes things. There are 2 kinds of people: people that make things and people that don’t make things. And that’s it. The art world is starting to get run by the people that don’t make things. And that’s ok, art and life are incongruous, and they don’t always go together. Art last a long time, so that’s encouraging.


Out of all the art world personalities you’ve come across…
Who is the funniest?

The funniest? A long time ago Sigmar Polke was the funniest. Then he lost his sense of humor, but in 1974 he was fucking funny.


Who is the craziest?

That’s a funny word crazy, you know? Gino De Dominicis. You probably don’t know him. Long time ago, before Damien Hirst and before Maurizio Cattelan, there was a guy named Gino De Dominicis. James Lee Buyers was pretty crazy too.


The most successful with women? You are smiling.

Women… Women like artists. I don’t know if it’s a curse or a blessing.
Some were very attractive, in their different ways, Bill de Kooning was a very handsome guy, a lot of women liked him. Brice Marden was very handsome, the girls liked him too.


It’s been said that “culture heroes are made, not born.” Would you agree?



What do you think makes a work of art good or bad, is there such a thing?

Soul and talent.


Is that how you explain your success?



You currently have an exhibition in­ Canada that speaks of the influence of film on your painting and the influence of painting on your film. Do you consider painting an activity, film a medium?

An activity and a medium? I’m a natural born painter, that’s what I do.
I don’t want paintings to be films and I don’t want films to be paintings. I like the notion that a painting is mute, and that it’s still. I don’t want it to be moving. I like the clarity. You change in front of that thing instead of it having to move in front of you.
I feel best when I am painting. I don’t have to explain myself, what I am thinking. I love the idea of not thinking at all. In fact, I made a painting a couple of years ago that said “I hate to think.”
But at the same time, part of my brain is a storyteller, and film is a way that I can use that impulse. I felt that I was able to communicate certain ideas I had in film that I couldn’t have in painting.


Would you agree with Andrei Tarkovski when he said “Cinema is an unhappy art?”

I know why he said that. Cause he couldn’t paint. And he felt that he always probably could have done it better. And he never was requited in some sort of way. He also said that art is a representation of life, which is different than life.  Life contains death, and art, unlike life, because it’s a representation, doesn’t. So it excludes death, therefore it’s optimistic. So there can never be optimistic and pessimistic art, there can only be talent and mediocrity.

I think that he might have said that it was thankless, or felt like it was sometimes, or painful, and it is. I’ve never really felt like I wished my movies would be different. Once I’m done with something, that’s it. I have final cut on every film I make so I don’t make any compromise.
I prefer to paint. I think it’s probably harder to make paintings than it is to make movies.


Do you think that cinema can effect social change?

I thought it was important for a Jewish person from New York to make a movie about a Palestinian girl growing up in East Jerusalem. I thought she deserved to have her portrait painted.
I’m not a politician, it’s a work of art but I hope that it will open an avenue of thought about how that conflict will get resolved. It’s a film about people, seeing them as human beings.


You curated Dennis Hopper’s show at MOCA. What was that experience like? Did you enjoy curating?

Well he was one of my best friends so I owed it to him and I loved working with the people over there. It was difficult to be responsible for somebody else’s work. Christopher Knight’s review was terrible. Dennis is not a painter, he’s no Gerard Richter, he’s a conceptual artist who made a lot of things, so it was more difficult. I tried to keep Denis alive, to do it quickly so he would get to see it. But he died.


Regarding your painting, “Humanity Asleep” you were quoted as saying, “I was trying to make a painting that I had never seen before.” Are you very concerned with originality?

Everybody is so accepting of a generic way of putting paint down. I wanna see a surprise when I look at something, I wanna surprise myself. But the audience lots of times would like to see the same thing over and over again. They want the brand. In the old days, you wanted to be the only person to have something.


Have you ever felt disillusioned by the commercialization of the art?



Your films often speak of imprisonment, do you feel imprisoned?



You are participating in a mentorship program with Maybach, did you have a mentor?

No, but I had some friends that were older than me that I learned different things from. I knew Malcolm Morley pretty well. A friend named Joe Glasgow was someone who was important to me. Bob Williamson, he wasn’t a painter but I learned a lot of stuff from him.


Which young artists do you admire? And why?

There are some interesting young artists around now, for example the Bruce High Quality Foundation. They are very bright, they have this concept about a school, about sharing ideas about having a sense of humor.  When I became very famous, there was a lot of jealously and negativity and a lot of misrepresentation and misquoting of things that I said. A new generation has come up, it’s nice that there is somebody to talk to again.


I want to end­­ with something that you said: “Retired bullfighter, that’s how I feel sometimes.” What did you mean by that?

What did I mean by that? I think that it probably means that I’ve been doing what ever I’m doing for a long time and sometimes you can feel like a ghost. I was also thinking about Juan Belmonte, do you know who that was? He was the greatest bullfighter ever. He hung himself in Paris when he was older. I have a fascination with him. If you ever get a chance to read a book by Chaves Nogales called “Juan Belmonte”, it’s written as if it was an autobiography but another guy wrote it, it’s really well written.  So the notion of being a retired bullfighter?


Are you done killing for sport?

(Laughs) That’s well said, I like that. (Laughs.)