Julian Schnabel: Sperone Westwater

By Pincus-Witten, Robert | Artforum International, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Julian Schnabel: Sperone Westwater


Pincus-Witten, Robert, Artforum International


Now for some whopping exaggerations and reckless paradoxes: The abstractionist of Minimalist persuasion always paints the same picture; the abstractionist of Expressionist bent always paints a different one. The former works in a received world of agreed-on perfections; the latter swims in the wilder waters of intuition and guesswork. Expressionists lack a proscriptive list of desirables that might guarantee the credibility of their work. Is this why Julian Schnabel has embellished maritime maps in his new series "Navigation Drawings," 2007? They chart, give direction, proscribe. Then again, maps, like Kabuki stage flats, kitchen linoleum, worn tarps, and pottery shards, have long been a staple of his drawings.

Some of the drawings are rendered on old Stanford maps, the kind that were hung from rollers on predigital schoolroom walls. Here, the maps have been pulled so far down as to reveal their buckram leads--which are also incorporated into the drawings, their formerly hidden gray-blue color now playing sky to the landscape/waterscape metaphor (inlets, soundings, fathoms, islands, coastlines, latitudes, longitudes). The maps depict esoteric places with sensational names: De Adra a Cabo de San Antonio y de Cabo Tres Forcas a Cabo IVI, Punta Eugenia to Cabo San Lazaro, Bahia de Cadiz, Point Conception to Point Sur--sites spelled large in roman caps that add a free-associative weight to the paintings, like the newspaper fragments caught in the wax of Jasper Johns's encaustics. Johns's Maps are also a point of departure. But Johns is no Expressionist.

The purpose of Expressionist drawing is ambiguous. For the Classicist, drawing served as preparatory study for an ideal painting yet to come. For the Expressionist, drawing itself is the painting--one created sur le vif, generated by extemporaneous means that leap to mind and hand, be it pencil, brush, crayon, collage, found ground. The results may relate to a later image, be it perfect or imperfect. The Expressionist establishes anew the standards of judgment with each sortie. Other than one's personal taste and conviction, there are no agreed-upon principles of aesthetic judgment in Expressionist art. …

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