Self-styled mega-star enjoys second coming

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2007, 12:00am

In the flesh, US artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel bears little resemblance to the arrogant person the press has made him out to be.

While he's definitely opinionated, there isn't a whiff of the 'monumental sense of self-importance' for which he is notorious. In fact, he came across as warm, funny and charismatically eccentric when he addressed a Hong Kong Art School (HKAS) audience last week.

The 56-year-old was in town to open an exhibition of his works, and was brought over jointly by entrepreneur David Tang Wing-cheung, Katie de Tilly of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery and the Fortune Cookie Project. Schnabel's show runs until November 24 and is the second leg of an 'Asian tour', which began in Beijing in September. It moves on to Shanghai in January and concludes in Seoul next March.

'I like the idea [of bringing] art to places,' Schnabel says at the talk organised by HKAS' Pamela Kember. He then asks how many in the room have seen his works in person. Not many. 'You should,' he says.

Indeed, it's only when standing in front of his massive canvases does one get a sense of not only the scale of the pieces - some measuring 2.5 by 3 metres - but also the raw texture of the media applied on the paintings.

His Portrait of Olatz (right) and Portrait of Olatz with Cy ( his second wife and twin son) with oil, plates and Bondo (polyester resin) on wood, for instance, are beautiful to look at close up and from afar. The uneven surface gives the works both extra depth and dimension.

It's also a style that propelled him to mega-stardom - and extreme excess - almost 30 years ago.

But it seems that over the past decade the neo-expressionist painter has been ruthlessly expunged from the art world's collective memory. However, if that's true Schnabel has made a fantastic 'comeback', resurfacing in film after winning the best director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for his third movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

So, what does he think of the contemporary art scene today in New York and London where he once revelled in the limelight?

Never afraid to speak his mind, Schnabel says modern galleries know nothing about art. 'How could so many people know so much about art? It's physically impossible. It's easy for people to sell things.

'Most of them don't know what they are talking about,' he says. 'They don't know the history and they don't know what they are selling. People buy the art thinking maybe this unlucky child will become famous, and they will make money out of it.

'It's always difficult for young people. In those days, people didn't want to take young artists seriously, now they are taking kids out of college and buying and reselling their work without even giving them a chance to develop.'

Schnabel says there are many artists working today who have no sense of humour and that he doesn't like them or their work.

'They are self-important with what they are doing. It's not even worth thinking about. It's just

small. It's nice when things can be generous.'

The artist has come a long way since he famously declared: 'I'm as close to Picasso as you are going to get in this f***ing life.'

Julian Schnabel Exhibition, Warwick House West, Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay, Ends Nov 24. Inquiries: 2810 0065