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On July 1 in Saint-Tropez, Fondation Linda et Guy Pieters debuted artist Julian Schnabel’s latest exhibition, “What are we painting after all,” currently on view through September 2. The renowned Schnabel, whose creative vision fully embraces a myriad of art forms including film, architecture, furniture, and sculpture, here revives his pioneering “plate paintings” as visceral portraits of the vistas and sensations en plein air that invigorate our souls and permeate our collective imagination.
Schnabel’s experiences as a student of fine arts at the University of Houston and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York guided him to a “Grand Tour'' of Europe, which ultimately led to a fortuitous encounter with the mesmerizing mosaics of Spanish designer and architect Antoni Gaudí. His inaugural “plate painting,” The Patients and the Doctors (1978), a deft collage of broken dishes, dental plaster, auto body putty, and oil paint on a canvas of wood, ushered in a new era of neo-expressionist painting with a dynamic use of materials, spirited brushstrokes, and a captivating web of figuration and abstraction. Schnabel’s award-winning feature films, such as Basquiat (1996), Before Night Falls (2000), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), and At Eternity’s Gate (2018), are equally vibrant and immersive works of art, transporting viewers into an artist’s own tender, sometimes calamitous, and perpetually riveting perspective.
Currently based in New York City and Montauk, Schnabel’s newest avant-garde works evoke our physical and spiritual connection with nature. An earthy vignette at a grave site, grounded in terracotta and forest green, is warmly lit by a pink and orange sunset, setting the scene for compassion, closure, and transcendence. Every piece is charged with multiple interpretations; a shimmering view of rose-colored flowers and garlands of greenery blooms atop blue waters or perhaps an azure sky, encouraging diverse emotions, dialogues, and points of view. An ebony-hued dog resting in a windy landscape, a succession of creamy shark fins, and a fantastical red lobster toying at a woman’s face reveal Schnabel’s proficiency for focusing our attention on every poignant shade of ordinary, and gracefully peeling away layer after layer to reveal the potent extraordinary.