Now equally well known as an accomplished filmmaker, Julian Schnabel was catapulted to the status of art world superstar in the early eighties, when his career was synonymous with the revival of painting as a meaningful art form. Using unconventional supports such as velvet, tarpaulin, animal hides, and Kabuki screens, his resolutely gestural work mounted a decisive assault on the prevailing aesthetic hegemonies of Minimalism and Conceptualism, positioning him as the figurehead of the Neo-Expressionist movement. Schnabel’s “plate paintings”—inspired by a visit to Gaudi’s Parc Güell in Barcelona, as well as the proportions of the closet wall in his Spanish hotel room—remain his most iconic works. In The Student of Prague, the artist characteristically draws on the imagery of Christian ritual, layering roughly hewn crucifixes over the bed of broken china vessels, and deploying a structure that recalls traditional triptych altarpieces. Despite these religious overtones and the work’s flamboyant scale and sense of theatre, there is no suggestion of sublime transportation or spiritual succor. Rather, the topography of jagged fragments, eroding the harmony of the traditional two-dimensional picture plane, offers a troubling vision of a chaotic and shattered world, conjuring a visual corollary to T. S. Eliot’s modern wasteland of “a heap of broken images, where the sun beats/And the dead tree gives no shelter.”¹
1.T. S. Eliot, "The Waste Land", The Waste Land and Other Writings (New York: Modern Library, 2002), p. 39.