The last time I saw Julian Schnabel he was wearing what appeared to be pajamas as he and his lady friend left the Sculpture Pavilion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I say “the last time” even though I only saw him one other time, when Rochester’s Ingrid Sischy brought him to the MAG for a lecture. This was during his smashed plate phase.
Schnabel’s “Basquiat” was embarrassing. His “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” was beautiful but an awful lot like “Johnny Got His Gun.” His “At Eternity’s Gate” is brilliant. Maybe just because the subject is so. But William Defoe is too. Because the movie was done by a painter I expected a more painterly dialog. Instead we have Van Gogh’s personality, his intense relationship with the world, his social ineptness, his psychological disorders and his glimpses of eternity on full display. Maybe that is what it took to produce such extraordinary art.
There is some choice dialog, probably taken from Van Gogh’s letters. “Paintings have to be painted fast, made in one clear gesture.” There is a scene Of Van Gogh and Gauguin taking a piss and talking about how they have to start a revolution. “The Impressionists are so boring.” And Van Gogh adds “But Monet is pretty good.” But there is a cringe worthy scene near the end of the film where Schnabel’s Van Gogh, comparing himself to Jesus, while talking to a priest, says maybe he paints “for people who are not born yet. Adding “nobody knew Jesus until 40 years after his death.”
Van Gogh essentially had ten years where he continued to get better and astronomically better as a painter. Like a rocket. Schnabel’s depiction of Van Gogh in his coffin (Defoe made up by an undertaker) and surrounded by his paintings was incredibly beautiful.
It’s vinyl only in Rick and Monica’s basement and last night it was “Doug Sahm and Band”, Tim Buckley’s “Lorca” and Procol Harem’s “Shine On Brightly”. Rick and Monica had friends over for dinner and and one of the guests was Tom Kohn from the Bop Shop so the party naturally gravitated toward the vinyl. We had eaten dinner with Pete and Shelley out on our deck and we were sort of winding down when Rick called to invite us over for some late night pool. So we merged parties.
Rick regularly rotates the album covers in the 12′ x 12″ pictures frames on the wall down there. Personal Effects’ “This Is It” cover was in one of the featured spots. But my favorite picture on the wall is the print of Van Gogh’s “The Pool Players” that hangs behind the pool table. This short movie takes you inside that painting.
Peggi’s mom gave us a subscription to Smithsonion Magazine and January’s issue had a great article on the Metropolitan’s Van Gogh “Night Vision show. The author tells how Van Gogh, the best drawer ever, was kicked out of an early drawing class and he quotes Van Gogh telling a friend, “I aim to paint with such expressive force that people will say, I have no technique.”
Turning from abstraction to storytelling, the work Philip Guston created in the last ten years of his life was roundly criticized as being clumsy, crude, artless, cartoony, affected and klutzy”. Guston is quoted as saying, “I got sick and tired of all the purity.”
Musa Mayer, writing in her memoir of her father, recaps a talk Philip gave to a group of students at the University of Minnesota in 1978. He ended his talk with the following remark. “Isaac Babel gave a lovely ironic speech to the Soviet Writer’s Union and ended his talk with the following remark, ‘The party and the government have given us everything, but they have deprived us of one privilage. A very important privilege, comrades, has been taken away from you. That of writing badly’.”