the artist julian schnabel -- 10/15/21

Today's selection -- from I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going by Peter McGough. The artist Peter McGough recalls meeting the legendary artist Julian Schnabel and his wife, Jacqueline, accompanied as always by his partner, the artist David McDermott:

"We accepted the Schnabels' offer to stay with them for a few days. …

"Julian spent a lot of time in his outdoor studio, and I watched him and his assistant mixing up colors from huge tubes of oil paint into large Chinese-takeout plastic tubs. David and I both sat for plate-painting portraits. Once, as Julian was getting ready to paint, he turned to me:

"'Hey, why don't you make a painting and use that canvas?' I looked behind me and saw what to me was a mural-sized stretched canvas. Our paintings were usually no bigger than two feet tall. 'Come on -- go ahead, man,' he encouraged me.

"I looked at this large mass of white canvas and at his mixed colors that screamed bright in the noonday sun. Out of a vast pile of used brushes I picked a few and gathered some of his plastic tubs of mixed colors and set them in front of me. He was on the other side of the studio, working with his back to me. Years before I had seen in a book on the American cubist painter Stuart Davis a picture of his 1921 soda-fountain mural, now destroyed, at the Gar Sparks Nut Shop in Newark, New Jersey, where the artist painted menu words on the wall in abstract letters of different sizes: 'IcE cREam, sOdA, oRanGadE,' etc. (Gar Sparks was an artist friend of Davis's, and the top salesman at the 1913 Armory Show, where he sold Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase.) I loved the photo I saw of it and wanted to use the idea for a painting sometime. David and I had discussed it, but I didn’t know what words to use. ‘How about Civil War battles?’ David suggested. ‘No, that wouldn’t work,’ I thought. But here at Julian’s I thought of all the names I had been called since I was a child. The words flooded over me: ‘faggot,’ ‘fairy,’ ‘pansy,’ ‘nelly,’ ‘queer.’ This was the moment I threw myself into it. All those taunts went swirling down on the canvas with the crushing names in different colors. I went wild laying them down for everyone to see. I walked over to the paint table and took more colors in plastic take-out tubs. I didn’t care that my suit was paint-splattered. I reveled in it. I thought of all the boys in school as I painted over their catcalls I knew by heart.

“'Hey!’ I hear Julian yell. ‘What are you doing?’

“Oh, no, I thought, maybe it’s too much with all these gay words. ‘Well, um … why, is it too much?’ I shyly asked.

"‘No, man -- you’re taking all the mixed colors I just made! Never mind -- this is great! Keep going.’ He smiled. Having seen the small, almost empty tubes we usually worked with when he visited our studio, at the end of those days in Long Island he started piling up his large tubes of colors for us, placing them in a bag.

"‘You’ll need cerulean blue, titanium white -- of course, maybe two. Then here’s some Naples yellow and cadmium red … burnt umber,’ and on and on. We left with a heavy bag of paint.

“When we first had Julian and Jacqueline over to Avenue C, he looked at our single mattress and asked why we didn’t get a larger one but complimented us on how we’d set up house. His world was so big: with a big studio, big paintings, and a large appetite for life. He’s see an arrangement of figurines on our table and say, ‘Why not make a painting of this? This is beautiful.’ He’d often talk with us about his own work or others’ painting, pointing out how colors react to one another. In fact, looking at paintings with him was an art course in itself. He became our mentor, someone we could go to and ask for advice, often about money or art dealers. I saw him help out many artists and some actors, giving or lending them money."


Peter McGough


I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going


Penguin Books


Copyright 2019 by Peter McGough


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