Julian Schnabel: For Esmé – with Love and Squalor
Pace Gallery, Los Angeles
April 9 through May 21, 2022
By SANDRA VISTA, May 2022
Julian Schnabel's new exhibition at PACE Gallery in Los Angeles is a requiem for love, light, beauty. The interpretation of dreams, evidenced by his omnipresent paintings on velvet where the "alizarin crimson" color of the velvet fabric has the deceptive quality of paint. The crimson velvet absorbs the light and draws the viewers into the paintings reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s Chapel paintings. Schnabel studied in Houston, Texas and probably has been exposed to these paintings. His current paintings, far from minimal, provide revealing titles such as Ship of State 2022 and Echo of Wedding Bells 2022. The high-powered gestural marks form an elegy of Schnabel’s experiences during the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and aggressive challenges throughout the world. Unarmed Road of Flight 2022, represents a Ukrainian mother and child moving through time with hints of the color of the Ukrainian flag.
During the preview of Schnabel’s exhibition, he left the visitors with this inspirational quote: “…all art is optimistic.” When I asked him for clarification, he said that even when art is describing something horrific the action of making art is still positive. He was referring to Andrei Tarkovsky’s (Soviet film director, screenwriter, and film theorist) quotes and his Instant Light-Polaroids. Like Tarkovsky’s Polaroids, Schnabel’s paintings are expressing transitory moments of time, memories, and dreams. Tarkovsky wrote of art as a way of “assimilating the world” and a path to finding one’s “absolute truth”. Schnabel’s painterly accounts of his journey for the last two and a half years, are freely open for the viewers to identify and comprehend. The mixed-media applications contribute to further autobiographical reflections as seen in the textural-mask portrait floating on the surface of Ship of State 2022. Illusionary flashes of light particles are achieved by mists and bands of spray paint. Gestural impasto of oil paint and crackling textures of modeling paste, play to the grounding forces of each painting and are reminiscent of the textural ceramics in Schnabel’s “plate paintings”.
The title of the exhibition: For Esmé – with Love and Squalor, originates from the J.D. Salinger short story by the same name. It is also dedicated to Schnabel’s new baby daughter named Esme'. He said he loves having little babies around him. As Tarkovsky talked about reducing everything to a person’s capacity to love and be loved and “...for love to grow the soul.” Both varieties of Esme' are symbols of unconditional love and spiritual uplifting gifts that help the artist (Schnabel) and the soldier (in Salinger’s story), to tackle their daily objectives. In the short story a soldier during World War II, meets a teenage girl named Esme'. Later, while he is in the hospital recovering from PTSD, Esme' sends him her deceased father’s watch. The watch serves as a talisman and declaration of love for the soldier who is trying to heal from his harrowing experiences. Schnabel’s Esme' is commemorated with the velvet paintings and a monumental sculpture (191”x 168” x 56”), of cast silicon bronze with stainless steel structure. ESME’, written in bold black letters across the top of the sculpture, serves as a heralding birth announcement and the love in a father’s heart. ESME’ 2020, also shares a resemblance to Salvador Dali’s painting: Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)1936 and parallels the idea of premonitions of war with the war in Ukraine and the pandemic battles. WM
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Sandra Vista is A freelance journalist in Los Angeles.