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Artists Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel Photo

Julian Schnabel

American Filmmaker, Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor

Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: October 26, 1951 - Brooklyn, New York

Julian Schnabel Timeline


"My paintings take up room, they make a stand. People will always react to that. Some people get inspired, others get offended. But, that's good. I like that."
Julian Schnabel
"It's a great excuse and luxury, having a job and blaming it for your inability to do your own art. When you don't have to work, you are left with the horror of facing your own lack of imagination and your own emptiness. A devastating possibility when finally time is your own."
Julian Schnabel
"A lot of what I do is about being in the moment and I think that's hard for people to get. I like it when things suddenly affect the painting. I mix up this red and it affects the whole painting or this little bit of white falls down there, and something changes the whole nature of the thing. The residue on what happens, that's what's in the paintings."
Julian Schnabel
"My compulsion is to create things."
Julian Schnabel
"I didn't want to be like everybody else. Art was my religion."
Julian Schnabel
"I painted the first plate paintings out of desperation because I was trying to make a painting that I had never seen before."
Julian Schnabel
"Sometimes you can make a painting, and it may not be pretty. It may be ugly, but it's better than when it's pretty. What do they say? Ugly can be beautiful; pretty, never."
Julian Schnabel
"I've never made a movie to make money. I've never made a painting to make money."
Julian Schnabel
"I guess I am ruthless too because that's what makes a great artist. But I also respect people, I don't go around stepping on their heads."
Julian Schnabel
"This camera works like photosynthesis. It is as if you were Xeroxing your own face. The pictures have such physicality: their surface is like fine leather, stained from chemicals. Each one has a body and is more than an image."
Julian Schnabel

"When you make art, people try to stop you from doing it, and everything's sort of designed to stop you from doing it. So the fact that it exists is a wonderful thing."

Julian Schnabel Signature


Julian Schnabel began his artistic career in the late 1970s and was part of a contingent of 1980s artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Salle who endeavored to restore painting to its pre-abstraction status. Their style permitted expressivity, even exuberance, and, in contrast to the pervasive intellectualism of Minimalist and Conceptualist art of the time, balanced technical concerns with emotional resonance. As a Neo-Expressionist, Schnabel reintroduced human sentiment to painting and eschewed flatness, heaping materials onto unconventional supports such as black velvet, weathered tarpaulins, and cardboard. In addition to painting, Schnabel's expansive creative impulse led him to branch out into music, photography, and film. Schnabel has received widespread critical acclaim for work as the director of Basquiat, Before Night Falls, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, among other productions, although he identifies himself as a painter first and foremost.

Key Ideas

Emerging on the heels of Minimalism and Conceptual art, Schnabel's near-mania for excess was, in itself, a potent declaration of his iconoclastic intent. His works, heavily laden not only with emotion - often there is an edge of brutal expressivity - but also quite literally with highly unconventional materials, are his manifestoes. Constructed on irregular supports like black velvet and aged tarpaulins, the lavish chaos of Schnabel's collage-like paintings is in itself a rejection of Minimalist asceticism, a true turning point for painting.
Schnabel arrived on the New York art scene with a precocious vengeance. He acquired almost immediate renown for his outlandish behavior, outspokenness, and egotism. Reviled by some and encouraged, even adored, by others, Schnabel seemed to be reinstituting the cult of the bohemian artist as a means of shameless self-promotion. Critics contended that his work was judged less on its potential merit than on the artist's larger-than-life, charismatic, and idiosyncratic persona.
Schnabel's work frequently features religious and, in particular, Catholic iconography and themes. His youthful engagement with Mexican culture and Meso-American religious practice when his family lived quite close to the Mexican border in Texas persisted as a lifelong fixation, which is reflected in his art. Introducing oblique religious themes in his work was a means by which Schnabel could not only infuse his paintings with meaning, but also, on a more fundamental level, connect with art history, albeit in an often satirical way.

Most Important Art

Julian Schnabel Famous Art

The Student of Prague (1983)

The Student of Prague is one of Schnabel's famous "plate paintings" in which he applied heavy layers of pigment over broken plates and horns that were glued to a wood panel. The work is exemplary Schnabel's oeuvre of the 1980s in its massive scale and almost baroque ornamentation. The broken plates are in part representative of the influence of the work of Gaudi, whose pottery-fragment mosaics were interesting to Schnabel. Moreover, Schnabel's use of broken crockery as a painting surface signaled an overtly defiant departure from the almost sacred "flat surface" rule of Minimalist painting. This fusion of the everyday and the grandiose were characteristic of the extreme emotionalism of Schnabel's narratives.

Structurally, the work resembles a triptych, a standard format for Christian painting of the Renaissance. It is divided into three distinct sections with the middle partition rising upward and outward above the others. Connected by the unifying surface texture, the work evokes the hinged panels of its medieval and Renaissance predecessors; rough crosses appear here and there, reinforcing the Christian symbolism. The lone, ghost-like figure in the center of the composition is both integrated with and singled out from the rocky landscape of the painting's imagined and material surfaces.
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Julian Schnabel Artworks in Focus:



Julian Schnabel was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 25, 1951 to Esta and Jack Schnabel, the youngest of three children. His long-standing fascination with Mexican culture and Catholic imagery and symbolism, so inherent to much Mexican folk art, was sparked when he was an adolescent. Leaving behind the lively Jewish community of his birthplace, at age thirteen Schnabel moved with his family to Brownsville, Texas., Brownsville was an utterly new, alien world, not far from the Mexican border, which seemed to ignite the creative spark of the inquisitive and innovative teen. As a youth, Schnabel's creative impulse was expressed in various ways; it was during those years that he determined to be an artist. He also sang in a rock band. This creative diversity set the stage for his multifaceted and prolific career.

Early Training

Julian Schnabel Biography

Schnabel received his BA in Fine Arts from the University of Houston in 1973. Shortly thereafter he returned to New York to attend the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum. In the late 1970s he spent time traveling in Europe and was especially impressed with the architecture of Antonio Gaudi. After returning to New York City, Schnabel took on various odd jobs, such as cab driver and cook, to support himself while continuing to produce art and promoting his work. Schnabel had his first solo show in 1979 at the Mary Boone Gallery and it was a huge commercial success.

Mature Period

Schnabel continued to live and work in New York and in 1980 he married Jaqueline Beaurang and they had three children. Schnabel's work gained favor in the 1980s in chic, up-and-coming collector circles. After his successful first solo show he continued on with three more solo shows at the Pace gallery in New York in 1984, 1986 and 1989. He was often spotted hanging out with Andy Warhol and was usually seen in public wearing his pajamas.

He is credited with playing an important role in bringing about "the return of painting" after painting had been declared "dead" by prominent theorists and artists, including the Conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth in the late 1960s. Something of a provocative and often controversial figure, Schnabel was criticized at times for making some fairly outlandish statements: for instance, he is famous for having referred to himself as the "lion of the New York art world" and declaring, "I'm as close to Picasso as you're going to get in this fucking life."

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Julian Schnabel Biography Continues
Julian Schnabel Photo

Schnabel is best known for his "plate paintings" comprised of broken plates and pottery pieces glued to large canvases and then painted. The frequently massive dimensions of his paintings (a typical work could be as large as eleven feet high and seventeen feet wide or more) and their heavy adornment with materials such as pottery, antlers, Bondo, oil pigment, and so forth could either engage or, conversely, overwhelm the viewer. Indeed, Schnabel maintained that he wanted the viewer to be, "engulfed in an emotional state," when viewing his paintings. He believed that what mattered in painting was, "not what is painted, but how it's painted."

In 1986, while still married to Jaqueline Beaurang, Schnabel met his second wife, Spanish actress Olatz Lopez Garmendia. He left Beaurang, married Garmendia and had twin boys. Schnabel's active personal life did not slow down his creative processes. In addition to painting, Schnabel's prolific creativity extended to music, photography, and film. He released an album in 1995 called Every Silver Lining has a Cloud. In 2002 Schnabel worked on the photography and art direction for the Red Hot Chili Peppers' album, By the Way. He co-wrote and directed the film Basquiat about the life and tragic death of Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of his contemporaries. Schnabel has had considerable success with his directing career, making notable films such as Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Lou Reed's Berlin, and Miral. While filming Miral he met Rula Jebreal, who wrote the screenplay and the book that Miral was based on. Schnabel soon left his second wife for Jebreal but the two never married. He currently spends his time between homes in New York City and Spain.


Schnabel's painting responded to the dry intellectualism and non-objectivity of the Minimalist and Conceptual movements, which to him were antithetical to the powerful emotional expressionism of his own painting. He was among the group of painters deemed "Neo-Expressionists," a contingent of artists of the early 1980s who are considered to have ushered in a new era painting that persists to the present day. Chief among the contributions of Neo-Expressionist artists like Schnabel, Salle, and Basquiat, was the reintroduction to painting of recognizable objects, especially the human body, at various levels of abstraction.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Julian Schnabel
Interactive chart with Julian Schnabel's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart


El GrecoEl Greco
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Antoni GaudíAntoni Gaudí
Joseph BeuysJoseph Beuys
Cy TwomblyCy Twombly


Jean-Michel BasquiatJean-Michel Basquiat
David SalleDavid Salle
Andy WarholAndy Warhol


Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel
Years Worked: late 1970s - present


Jean-Michel BasquiatJean-Michel Basquiat
David SalleDavid Salle
Cindy ShermanCindy Sherman
Jeff KoonsJeff Koons
Damien HirstDamien Hirst


Benjamin BuchlohBenjamin Buchloh
Hal FosterHal Foster
Craig OwensCraig Owens
Mira SchorMira Schor



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Useful Resources on Julian Schnabel






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Julian Schnabel: Art and Film

By David Moos

Julian Schnabel: Polaroids Recomended resource

By Petra Giloy-Hirtz

Julian Scnabel: Paintings 1978-2003

By Max Hollein, Ingrid Pfeiffer, Robert Fleck and Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel: Permanently Becoming and the Architecture of Seeing

By Sir Norman Rosenthal

More Interesting Books about Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel Recomended resource

By Raphael Rubinstein
Art in America
March, 2011

Julian Scnabel: Larging it

By Mick Brown
The Telegraph
January, 2008

Julian Schnabel and Rula Jebreal talk about the film 'Miral'

By Mark Jenkins
The Washington Post
April, 2011

Schnabel talks about his Painted Polaroid works Recomended resource

Good video and footage of the artist's NYC home and studio

Schnabel talks about overcoming creative ruts

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