Julian Schnabel - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'I embrace the subjectivity of the written word and the many forms it can take, and the different meanings that are possible to different viewers.' —Julian SchnabelExecuted in 2002, Misericordia Painting I (Big hair Day) exemplifies the experimental nature of Julian Schnabel’s artistic practice. The phrase ‘Big hair Day’ is scrawled diagonally in bold red paint across the canvas, recalling graffiti, and evidencing the significance of the written word in the American artist’s oeuvre. Acknowledging the close precedent of Cy Twombly’s painterly engagement with language, Schnabel celebrates the form of the letters as they dominate the canvas. The meaning of the phrase is deliberately opaque, reflecting Schnabel’s conviction that conscious and unconscious influences accumulate in his artmaking: ‘In painting you take everything you know and don’t know and posit that in the work’.i His interest in ‘the subjectivity of the written word’ and its potential to generate ‘different meanings’ also emerges from the title which makes ambiguous reference to another recurring theme that runs through his work: Christian devotional traditions.ii

     

    Cy Twombly, Drawing for Fifty Days at Iliam, 1978, paint stick and graphite on paper. © Philadelphia Museum of Art / Gift (exchange) of Samuel S White 3rd & Vera White, 1989 / Bridgeman Images © Cy Twombly Foundation
    Cy Twombly, Drawing for Fifty Days at Iliam, 1978, paint stick and graphite on paper. © Philadelphia Museum of Art / Gift (exchange) of Samuel S White 3rd & Vera White, 1989 / Bridgeman Images © Cy Twombly Foundation

    Schnabel burst onto the New York art scene in 1979 with his first solo exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery. Taking an experimental approach to painting, he played a crucial role in the development of Neo-Expressionism in America. In Misericordia Painting I (Big hair Day), dripping lilac paint intersects the horizontal swipe of red running across the top of the work. The black form in the centre of the composition pulls the gaze inwards, while the white plaster frame extends its borders beyond the canvas. The gestural application of wax, resin, and oil paint builds a textured surface that emphasises the materiality and physical presence of the painting. The work demonstrates how the artist has developed his own idiosyncratic painterly style in the decades following the height of Neo-Expressionism through the introduction of unconventional materials.

     

    Indeed, for Schnabel, painting is a process of discovery: ‘I don’t know what it’s going to look like when I’m done […] I figure it out as I’m going along, and the process of doing it is the thing’.iii His experimental approach to artmaking has facilitated a multidisciplinary practice which extends across painting, film, sculpture, and furniture design. Yet, while an award-winning filmmaker, painting remains the essential mode of expression for the artist: ‘If I never made another movie, I could probably live […] but if I couldn’t paint, I don’t know what I would do’.iv The bold application of the unconventional materials in Misericordia Painting I (Big hair Day) breaks through painterly traditions to assert Schnabel’s place as an innovator in the landscape of contemporary American painting.

     

    Julian Schnabel discusses his approach to painting which he perceives to be at the forefront of his creative practice.

     

    i Julian Schnabel, quoted in ‘Julian Schnabel in conversation with David Moos’, in Julian Schnabel: Art and Film, David Moos, ed., Toronto, 2010, p. 19, online

    ii Julian Schnabel, quoted in ‘Julian Schnabel in Conversation with Alex Gartenfeld’, in Julian Schnabel: Permanently Becoming and the Architecture of Seeing, Norman Rosenthal, ed., Milan, 2011, p. 43

    iii Julian Schnabel, quoted in ‘Julian Schnabel in conversation with David Moos’, in Julian Schnabel: Art and Film, David Moos, ed., Toronto, 2010, p. 5, online

    iv Julian Schnabel, quoted in ‘Julian Schnabel: “I Never Thought of Art as a Career”’, the-talks.com, online

    • Provenance

      Cardi Black Box Gallery, Milan
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013

    • Literature

      Julian Schnabel, Julian Schnabel, New York, 2003, p. 316 (illustrated)

142

Misericordia Painting I (Big hair Day)

signed and dated 'Julian Schnabel 2002' on the overlap
oil, wax and resin on canvas, in artist's frame
207 x 174 cm (81 1/2 x 68 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2002.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£70,000 - 90,000 

Sold for £88,200

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 October 2021