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Artist in Focus : Julian Schnabel

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Julian Schnabel.

Art From Us & Divvya Nirula introduce you to artists and their art. Underlining significant works, discovering creative practices. And giving you a glimpse into their studio.

Early Life

Julian Schnabel is a name to contend with in the world of art, for the contribution to the development of Neo Expressionism. This experimental painter and filmmaker was born in 1951 in Brooklyn, NY before moving with his family to Texas when he was teenager. The move to Brownsville, Texas had a profound influence on his decision to become and artist. He was inspired by the vibrancy of the Mexican culture, music and art.

Graduating from the University of Houston, he attended the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum. He travelled extensively, worked menial jobs, he accumulated experience and finally he had his first solo show at the Mary Boone Gallery, which was a commercial success.

The 80s clearly belonged to him and he saw a meteoric rise, he worked with Andy Warhol and collaborated with Jean Michel Basquiat, and Joseph Kosuth.

Julian and Neo Expressionism

Schnabel’s style continued to evolve and he arrested attention for his unbound talent as well as his personality, unapologetic, rebellious and daring. Schanbel was influenced by Gaudi on his travels, and it found resonance through his plate paintings. For this edgy artist the process was as important as the art itself, it was his most direct and honest way of connecting with the viewer.

I don’t know who paid for the Franz West show [at Tate Modern], but I can tell you it’s a good thing for a little kid to walk in there and have that experience with art. Art is about freedom, and superimposing these political agendas on things – wherever they are coming from – obscures the meaning of things or complicates the experiences.

– Julian Schnanbel

It can be said that Schnabel is committed to exist on his own terms, without being analysed, labelled and discussed. The heart of his philosophy and his connection with Neo-expressionism are in complete synchronicity. Pure expression and un-adulterated connection over posturing and promoting was his mantra.


Schnabel painting and his expression, his reaction to other movements was important in ushering the new era of painting. He brought commercial success to works and raised awareness about a host of issues that were underlying the usual topics of debate and discussion. He asked questions, or gave his honest views viscerally. His ideological contribution was as important as were his artworks that were highly acclaimed, and for his films that received critical acclaim. Schnabel brought to the fore many issues that needed to be spoken about and heard. Technically, the reintroduction of certain aspects of art – where he broke away from Minimalist and Conceptualist movements propelled and spelled growth for many future artists.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the Artist in Focus archive.

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