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Julian Schnabel: Artist Director

“The term ‘larger than life’ seems almost too meager for the force of nature that is Julian Schnabel: artist, surfer, bon vivant, and now acclaimed filmmaker.”—Art Newspaper

Over the past 20 years, the Regis Dialogue and Retrospective programs have brought some of today’s most innovative and influential filmmakers to the Walker Cinema, an intimate setting in which directors talk about their creative process, influences, and body of work illuminated with film clips, anecdotes, and personal insights. In March, join Julian Schnabel in conversation with Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander on the Cinema stage.

An American renaissance man, Schnabel was 15 when he realized he wanted to be an artist. In 1978 he completed a breakthrough work, his first “plate painting” (large-scale images set on broken ceramic plates). Contemplating a variety of titles for the piece, such as Painting for the Italian Cinema (or French and American Cinema), Paramount, and Roman Holiday #2, Schnabel eventually settled on The Patients and the Doctors—but it was clear from the very beginning that his passion for film was an inspiration in his creative endeavors. His paintings have since been shown and collected around the world, with several of his other earlier works, such as the 1976 canvas Shoeshine (or Vittorio de Sica), also indicating his interest in cinema.

The release of his lauded film debut, Basquiat (1996), announced Schnabel as an accomplished director as well as artist. All his features are infused with his artistic sensibility: beautifully crafted, they are visually stunning portraits of extraordinary individuals, and in each case they zero in on one artistic person’s inner life and creative expression. “Whether it’s the screen in a movie or whether it’s the rectangle that is the perimeter of a painting, it’s an arena where this battle takes place, between everything that you know and don’t know,” Schnabel said in a 2010 interview. “And I think that I apply the same system to both paintings and films. I don’t know what it is going to look like when I’m done. I know how to start. I know how to lean towards the divine light. But I figure it out as I’m going along, and the process of doing, that’s the thing.”

With the soon-to-be-released Miral, Schnabel has broken his own mold by fashioning an epic with historical and political ramifications, though he still encases it in his trademark personal story. “Miral is imbued with the exquisite camera and sound work he’s become known for, but the portraiture is more precise than expressionist, matching an emotional arc with a political one” (Toronto International Film Festival). In 2010 Schnabel received the Douglas Sirk Award at the Hamburg Film Festival—a tribute to a personality for his or her outstanding merit in film culture—for which they called him “one of the most versatile artists of his generation. The diversity of his talent is exciting and inspires artists of every genre.”