Speaking with Julian Schnabel was a real thrill for me, as I’ve long been a fan of both his paintings and his films. But since the Pappi Corsicato (whose very name is an epic film) documentary on him, Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait, focuses mostly on his work as a painter, I decided to focus most of my questions there as well. The full version of this interview will be the first episode of the new season of my Paste podcast The Work next week, but in the meantime we’d like to bring you this audio excerpt as an edition of Ten Minute Film School. Below are some highlights, as well as an exclusive look at the alternate poster for the documentary. To find the film in a theater near you, go here.
Schnabel on inspirations: “Basically I see paintings everywhere. And I don’t always work on a blank canvas. Sometimes I work on a dirty canvas; I like a dirty canvas. I was driving down the road in Mexico, and there’s a truck broken down with a tarp that’s covering the tractor trailer, and it looked like an elephant skin. So I asked the truck driver if I could buy that. I had seventy dollars in my pocket. Then I stretched it in a nursery in the jungle, and I saw things in that - stains and marks. And I began drawing what I was seeing in the dirt. I was in Mexico last week and I went to a fruit market, and there was a piece of gabardine giving shade for the people who were in the market. I bought the cover, and it was two seams, two different colors. I stretched it between two palm trees and just looked at it for awhile. I don’t know what I’ll do with it. Put some white on it. Usually it has to do with finding some type of material or an image I see that sort of grows into something else. But I just see possibilities for paintings wherever I go. I don’t have any preconceptions about what should or shouldn’t be a painting.”
Schnabel on thinking and feeling: “I don’t know if there’s a separation between feeling and intellect; I don’t think there is. But I did make some paintings where I wrote ‘I Hate To Think’ on them. When I’m painting, I’m not thinking. I’m painting instead of thinking.”
Schnabel on unorthodox techniques: “You find ways to paint. For example, in the movie there’s this part where I’m throwing this towel, this tablecloth, at the painting, and it’s making these marks that look like a gravure. So when I discovered that, I was trying to make a larger stroke, and trying to make something that looked like it was printed. Which it did, at that scale. And so you end up throwing this tablecloth at this gigantic surface. It’s an arena where you can behave and your intuition leads you around. Then you decide that it’s satisfying, or it’s not.”