There is a koan that states, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." Thinking about Buddha as something outside of oneself is creating preconceived ideas and is, hence, antithetical to one's awakening. Looking at the work of Lola Montes Schnabel is a little like that. It is hard not to think of the giant reputation of Julian Schnabel, her father, looming over her work. Even if you tried, it might be kind of like not trying to think about elephants, and, well -- you get the point. Schnabel has created a suite of paintings, stylistically not so much indebted to the Neo-Expressionist movement as developing from it, that are worth considering.
These five works, created over the past year, incorporate an impressive range of materials (asphalt, oil, Plaster-Weld, and copper-plating solution). They comprise an allegorical group of figurative works that tell the story of androgenous youths on a remote Greek island. Schnabel states, "They depict a time of love before sexuality, with the nude youths, occasionally shrouded in sheepskins, romping playfully...in the landscape." Schnabel constructs these figures systematically, painting with a highly intuitive, though limited, five-color palette similar to the five-color Ko Kutani school of Japanese ceramics. The expressionist gesture of her brush is subtle, allowing for the mixed media, which have been thinned, to bleed and pool, like calligraphic brush painting. Schnabel allows the pigments to form together in layers, emolliated by the Plaster-Weld, combining the old-school pigments with the modern construction material.
Two works merit particular note. In "Albatross" (2011), a figure drags an albatross across a teal expanse of canvas, maybe an inside allusion to the burden of dragging art-historical baggage as an artist. In "Fox" (2011), the last work in the series, two figures ultimately come together in ecstasy, leaving behind this idyllic world for something else. We see elements of van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and Alice Neel jumbled together -- not just in the obvious surface comparisons, but in those artists' pursuit of pulling contemporary stories out of older allegorical themes. René Ricard, one of the most perceptive critics of the 1970s and '80s, wrote, "Invention isn't important; it's the patent, the transition from the public sector into the private, the monopolizing personal usurpation of a public utility, of prior art; no matter who owned it before.... Artists have a responsibility to their work to raise it above the vernacular." As an artist who was born at around the same time that Ricard was writing these words, Schnabel seems to have absorbed their meaning or content through some form of osmosis. Putting her own stamp on concepts seems to be exactly what these works are all about.
Schnabel appears to be exploring, with a sense of economy of means and gesture, aspects of her own life that are both personal and, through art history and literature, universal. Far from being simple remixes or pastiches of other artists' styles and techniques, Schnabel melds together these disparate elements and creates something paradoxically timeless and radical. - Bradley Rubenstein
The Hole is at 312 Bowery in New York, New York.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.