Julian Schnabel Turns the Camera on His Life

Julian Schnabel was an art-superstar before turning his hand to writing, music, film, and architecture. A true renaissance man, Schnabel is now touting his large-format Polaroid photographs in a 100-image exhibition at the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf, which runs through July 11, and an impressive, new Prestel monograph, which releases June 30.

Turning the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera on friends and family over the course of six years, from 2002 to 2008, Schnabel captured fleeting moments in his Manhattan, Montauk, and Brooklyn studios and other locations related to his art and interests. Schnabel’s pals Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken, and Lou Reed are caught on camera hanging out with the artist, while Takashi Murakami, Max von Sydow, and Dick Cavett are documented dropping by the studio to visit.

Impressionistic views of Schnabels’ paintings and sculptures in his various studios and interior shots of his design projects, such as the Gramercy Park Hotel and Palazzo Chupi, as well as a selection of “crazy people” complete the instantaneous, snapshot-like oeuvre. Occasionally marked with paint, Schnabel’s Polaroids offer a behind the scenes look at one of the most motivated creative forces of the past 40 years.

Schnabel’s thoughts on the project, which introduce the book, are as baffling as the final images, but revealing to the process used to achieve them:

“Art brings you into the eternal present every time you see it in person. Traditionally, photography is supposed to capture an event that has passed; but that is not what I’m looking for. Photography brings the past into the present when you look at it; it is called art. A photograph that I’m attracted to allows a detail to rise to its own accord.”

Collected together, Julian’s details don’t tells us a much about the time traversed as they do about Julian — the camera is there to document anything and everything, but it’s the artist who’s the ultimate subject.

Julian Schnabel, Untitled (Julian and Mickey), 2008. Painted Polaroid print, © Julian Schnabel, 2008