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Overview for Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel


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Also Known As: Died:
Born: October 26, 1951 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA Profession: Director ... director painter cook


A darling of the New York art scene in the 1980s and 1990s, Julian Schnabel rose to prominence as a sculptor and painter of oversized canvases that overflowed with raw energy and emotion. A tireless self-promoter, Schnabel's work reflected his personality and his work ethic, which could be comfortably described as larger-than-life. His interests expanded to film in the late Nineties with "Basquiat" (1996), a biopic of his late friend, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which received mixed reviews. His talent behind the camera developed quickly, leading to positive reviews for his subsequent features, "Before Night Falls" (2000), which introduced the world to Spanish actor Javier Bardem, and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (2007), a highly praised film about journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby's life after a debilitating stroke that earned Schnabel an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. He followed up with the rather disappointing "Miral" (2010), but always maintained a steady presence on the art scene. In fact, Schnabel considered himself primarily an artist despite directing films with some degree of consistency. Despite such self-protestations, Schnabel was a gifted director whose audacious style crafted beautifully rendered films that were evocative of the human spirit.

Born Oct. 26, 1951 in Brooklyn, NY, Schnabel's family relocated to Brownsville, TX in 1965, and he studied at the University of Texas in Houston from 1969 to 1973. He relocated to New York after earning his BFA and participated in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program. By 1975, he was earning his first notices at the Contemporary Arts Museum. Frequent trips to Europe exposed him to the work of such unique artists as architect Antoni Gaudi and performance artist and sculptor Joseph Beuys, who helped to inform Schnabel's work and expand his artistic horizons. In 1979, Schnabel's debut solo show in New York at the Mary Boone gallery gave art critics and followers alike a first look at his unique talents. His paintings were massive - some even billboard-sized - and utilized unique surfaces like black velvet, animal hides or broken ceramics. Schnabel's paintings depicted recognizable objects - the human body being a favored subject - and overflowed with vivid colors that suggested raw, even brutal emotion. The impact of his work sent seismic shocks throughout the world art community, with Schnabel soon finding himself at the center of the burgeoning "Neo-Expressionist" movement, which strove to separate itself from the then-current scene's emphasis on cooler, more minimalist creations of a conceptual nature; other prominent figures in the American contingent of this movement were David Salle, Enzo Cuche, and Schnabel's friend, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

A burly man with a penchant for appearing in public in pajamas, Schnabel cut an outlaw-styled figure which helped build as much positive press for his career as his work. This attitude proved quite savvy in the boom market of the 1980s, which saw artists rise to pop culture icon status thanks to huge sales of their work. The fact that Schnabel worked quickly only helped to increase the tide of demand for his art, which frequently sold out during exhibition. A backlash was inevitable; critics wondered if there was more to Schnabel's talent than his self-generated hype, but for much of the Eighties, few artists enjoyed a more lucrative and media-friendly career than Schnabel.

Schnabel published his autobiography, CVJ: Nicknames of Maitre'Ds and Other Excerpts from Life in 1987. Such a move may have been prompted by a lessening of interest in his artwork. He dabbled briefly in music with a 1995 album, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, before tackling film directing in 1996. The subject of his first effort was his friend Basquiat, who had died from a heroin overdose in 1988. Jeffrey Wright was tapped to play Basquiat, while David Bowie essayed Andy Warhol and Gary Oldman was Albert Milo, a stand-in for Schnabel himself (his own parents and daughter were also featured in cameos). Schnabel also recreated Basquiat's art work for the film, due to the refusal of the late artist's estate to grant permission to use his original paintings in the film. "Basquiat" was released in 1996 to mixed reviews; many found Schnabel's direction pedantic, while others viewed it favorably as an accurate portrayal of the scene and the pressures endured by its participants. The National Board of Review awarded it with a Special Recognition Award for excellence in 1996, while Schnabel himself was nominated for a Golden Lion at Cannes.

He returned to the director's chair in 2000 with "Before Night Falls," a challenging biopic about gay Cuban author and playwright Reinaldo Arenas, whose writing and lifestyle earned him severe punishment at the hands of the Communist government. In an Oscar-nominated turn, acclaimed Spanish actor Javier Bardem played Arenas, while Johnny Depp shined in dual roles as a transvestite inmate who assisted Arenas and a brutal prison guard. Critics and audiences responded more favorably to the film, which won several major awards at the Venice Film Festival in 2000, including the Grand Special Jury Prize. Meanwhile, Schnabel's art career continued unabated during this period as he identified himself primarily as a painter who also directed films. His work received regular showcases in galleries and museums around the world, and in 2001, he contributed pieces to a show held at an office building damaged by the attacks on September 11. He also served as art director for the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 2002 album By the Way.

In 2007, Schnabel returned to directing features with another independent-minded project, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," an enormously moving film based on the life of author Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), whose inability to move more than his left eyelid failed to prevent him from penning a best-selling autobiography. The project received the best reviews of Schnabel's film career, with many major critics placing it at the top of their year-in-review lists. Schnabel reaped numerous Best Director awards from American and international film societies and critical groups, as well as the 2008 Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Director. That same year, Schnabel also directed and served as set designer for the ambitious concert film "Lou Reed's Berlin" (2007), which captured a live performance of the legendary rocker's 1973 album in its entirety at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY. Back to features, Schnabel helmed "Miral" (2010), a biographical political film about a naïve young Jewish girl (Freida Pinto) who grew up sheltered from Israel's problems, only to be shocked by the reality once assigned to a teaching post in a Palestinian refugee camp. Unlike Schnabel's previous films, however, "Miral" was maligned by critics and failed to receive any major award nominations.

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