Monday, 21 July 2014

Julian Schnabel at The Dairy Art Centre Bloomsbury

Ends Sunday 27 July

Julian Schnabel
Gallery entrance
with Untitled (Girl with No Eyes), 2014
© Julian Schnabel
Courtesy the artist and Dairy Art Centre
Photograph © reviewer 2014
The beautiful Dairy Art Centre, renovated brilliantly in 2013 by the architect Jenny Jones, is showing Julian Schnabel's first major solo exhibition for 15 years. (See pic left, with Schnabel's Untitled (Girl With No Eyes), 2014 in place and pic below, a view into the courtyard.)
 
Entitled "Every Angel has a Dark Side", paintings from the late 1990s to the present, we have 18 works on canvas (or in some cases polyester) from the Julian Schnabel Studio in New York. They hang well here in London. Big and bold, the largest of them 114 x 136" (299.6 x 345.4 cm). 







Gallery side wall with window to yard
Photograph © reviewer 2014
What struck me was that they exhibit a quality often seen in the work of poets, a deeply personal subject, part univeralized, part kept private. Ambiguous, moving the reader to wonder, until somewhere down the line the puzzle unfolds or is unfolded.

With Schnabel, the disguise can be areas of the paint surface whited out (Landscape, 1997); indeed, in this case enamelled out, or in Fifteen Yrs Old and Surrounded by Pigs, 2014, where the whited out surface itself becomes a further canvas for some text. In Grotto, 2013, the surface brushwork (in pink) might be taken to be artistic exuberance. In Untitled (Self Portrait), 2014, the head appears conventionally modelled while the body remains flat. 


Schnabel is an artist who does not allow the rational laws of perspective to get the better of his emotional side. The paintings are, as I say, deeply personal. What for instance are we to make of Untitled (Girl With No Eyes), 2014, shown above, where the black overpainting on what purports to be a straightforward portrait, resembles nothing less than a machine gun, its barrel and enlarged cross hairs pointing at the girl's face. Or is the blackness a less-than-joyous depiction of the Christian cross, the blonde all-American girl disappearing behind it as if retiring to the cloister. As the poet finds when work is printed on the page and they can no longer be there to explain it: the poem is the story.


Julian Schnabel
Untitled (Chinese), 2011
© Julian Schnabel
Courtesy the artist and Dairy Art Centre
Photograph © reviewer 2014
Julian Schnabel
David and Goliath, 2011
© Julian Schnabel
Courtesy the artist and Dairy Art Centre
Photograph © reviewer 2014
Sometimes the surface lines turn lyrical as in Untitled (Chinese), 2011, far left, almost a calligraphy, framing, in the central upper portion of the work, the delicate porcelain oval of a woman's face. Very lovely.

At other times, as if sensing the ambiguity of so many works labelled 'Untitled', the artist will add a subtitle, as in Untitled (Painter in Prison), 2013, which records visits the artist made to a state penitentiary where he helped tutor the inmates. (Schnabel has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Houston as well as post-graduate study. Well exhibited in the world's art museums, his work is included in public collections from New York to Tokyo.)

Try to see this exhibition more than once. The gallery itself will astound you. The architect (who has worked with OMA) has left the inside clean, minimalist and true to its semi-industrial roots as a former Express Dairy Depot. Free tours take place on Thursday at 1.30 pm and on Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm.

The surrounding area is quintessential Bloomsbury, quiet Georgian streets and university buildings, all round the corner from the Brunswick shopping centre where you can buy a  sandwich and the peaceful green space of St George's Gardens where you can sit and enjoy it.

Don't miss what is possibly Schnabel's best puzzle work, the mighty David and Goliath, 2011, in Room 2 (shown above right). This David has just beheaded his Goliath, the blood still pours from the severed neck. The head, held by its hair by David, appears to be that of the artist. But who is the David in a suit who has metaphorically inflicted such a double wound: a friend, a teacher, a relative, a figure known or imagined from the art world?


CODA follows


Dairy Art Centre
7a Wakefield Street, WC1
contact@dairyartcentre.org.uk
MAP
Wed to Fri 10am to 5pm
Weekends and bank holidays 11am to 5pm

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