Julian Schnabel, Brooklyn, New York 1951
Untitled (Chinese Painting), 2008
ProvenanceAcquired directly from the Artist
Tony Godfrey, Painting Today, London, 2009, p. 423, no. 474, illustrated.
“I like when I’m looking at something that’s just about to form itself [...] The disagreement between the surface and what’s behind it—that space in between is what interests me.”—Julian Schnabel
Painted in 2008, Julian Schnabel’s large-scale Untitled (Chinese) belongs to a series of paintings based upon a nineteenth-century Chinese mirror whose surface is decorated with the figure of a reclining woman rendered in coloured enamel. Ivory flowers wrap around the mirror’s frame, and at the bottom are three carved figures, who perhaps can be interpreted as sages. Yet instead of reproducing the mirror as a whole, Schnabel’s Untitled (Chinese) is a transliteration, in isolation of a minute detail then magnified and rendered monumental, and energised by an overlay of brilliant, liquid colour, splashed in seeming abstraction but in fact carefully choreographed.
After the series was complete, Schnabel brought the paintings outdoors, exposing them to the harsh effects of weather. Although the original inspiration artefact—the mirror—is virtually unrecognizable, the foggy, aqueous grey staining of the surface references a spotted and ageing reflective surface. “Schnabel,” writes curator David Moos, “likes to paint and to cancel at the same time, to reject and to discover something that is lost, bringing the past into the present… Schnabel invites indeterminacy, offering the composite image as a proposition of both rupture and merger. As one surveys these paintings individually, each reverberates with that possibility, the simultaneous integration and disintegration of the image” (David Moos, “A False Sense of Intimacy” in Julian Schnabel: Untitled (Chinese Mirror Paintings), exh. cat., Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, 2009, n. p.). Schnabel has long looked to other cultures and historical periods for inspiration, and in his paintings temporalities intermingle freely. He rocketed out of American Modernist traditions with his monumental Neo-Expressionist canvases, whose wildly animated brushwork embodied an intense intensity of emotion. These same gestures can be seen in Untitled (Chinese), which presents a hallucinatory refraction of the original motif.
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