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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2021

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NOV 2021 Issue
ArtSeen

Julian Schnabel: Self Portraits of Others

Julian Schnabel, <em>Number 5 (Van Gogh Self-Portrait Musée d'Orsay, Vincent)</em>, 2019. Oil, plates, and bondo on wood, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy the Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT.
Julian Schnabel, Number 5 (Van Gogh Self-Portrait Musée d'Orsay, Vincent), 2019. Oil, plates, and bondo on wood, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy the Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT.


“Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent … All admit irregularity as they imply change; and to banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.” — John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice



What if Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man is as alive today as it was some time ago?
What if L’Atalante was the best film ever made, and Jean Vigo was a true anarchist
                    As his father was?
What if the Cistercian monks and the Uyghurs had a shared dream about encaustic tiles
                    Long before we were born?
What if Vincent van Gogh was talking to Hsu Tao-ning about landscape painting just
Before his arrival to Asnieres, where he saw the rise of industrialism obscuring
                    The site of his beloved earth?


Whoever says this artist knows the human face like the sun knows its light?
Whoever claims modern psychology has taught us how physiognomic analysis
                    Can reveal a person’s inner life, even when the light is dimly lit?
Whoever sees realism revealed in these human faces,
                    Asymmetry beholding Socratic individualities.
Whoever sees this artist substituting his own countenance for someone else’s face,
Sustained anguish, elemental urge, probing for restless spirits.


He was reminded by an old friend in a dream: the mythology of forms can be seen in a face,
                    An amazing coherent constellation in time and space.
He was reminded of ‘cosmic totality,’ a place many of us and our nature celebrate
endurance.
He was told not to exploit the division of labor for it’s a threat to human unity.
He often tell himself why such questions are no longer useful to this side of paradise.


How are we to see other faces in flesh are not those we see in our imagination?
How can Vincent’s faces be painted on irregular surfaces, shimmering light,
                    A nebula of multiple characters radiating their own nobilities.
How can Vincent’s swirling energy, luminosity of light, be seen in this condition?
How can Vincent’s region of warmth be felt by this passionate spectator?


One swift migration of feet, hands, eyes, we see faces in
Countless built textures at eternity's gate.
One small touch of diffused sensuality, undulant ripple of sensation.
One dabbling of toes in lesser-excelled speed, he notices the glare, bare white porcelain,
Collapsed gravity, cracked rhythm, pacing back and forth.
One locomotion, unannounced, calibrates blood, burnt orange, pipe smoking, self-portrait
                    With bandage ear; he’s riding the wind on the other side of paradise.


He’d seen Christ as a good shepherd. There are no absolutes for beauty and reality.
                    They are objects of desire in disquieting paths.
He’d seen the celestial dirt, mixing with Goliath’s blood.
He’d seen the restless souls beyond measure,
                    Longing for friendship and adoration.
He’d seen turbulence of emotion, primordial simplicity resists disintegration,
Pulsation of light and dark, prevailing apprehension on both sides of paradise.


Julian Schnabel, <em>Number 1 (Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Willem)</em>, 2018. Oil, plates, and bondo on wood, 72 x 60 inches. Collection of Amalia Dayan and Adam Lindemann.
Julian Schnabel, Number 1 (Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Willem), 2018. Oil, plates, and bondo on wood, 72 x 60 inches. Collection of Amalia Dayan and Adam Lindemann.

Julian Schnabel, <em>Number 3 (Young Frida)</em>, 2020. Oil, plates and bondo on wood, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy Pace Gallery.
Julian Schnabel, Number 3 (Young Frida), 2020. Oil, plates and bondo on wood, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy Pace Gallery.

Contributor

Phong Bui

Phong H. Bui is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.

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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2021

All Issues