Schnabel’s triptych contains a unified narrative through an explosive and variegated representational strategy. According to the artist, the painting “incorporates memories of his first nightclub experience in the ‘Bhavanda Lounge…where the kids were given cha cha lessons by the pool’”(Gert Schiff in Julian Schnabel and the Mythography of Feeling, Julian Schnabel exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York 1984, n.p.). Though at first Schnabel’s narrative seems illusive, upon close inspection and study, elements of that night pull through, bringing with them art historical associations, disparate visual references, and the fractured quality of dreams.
The left-most panel is dominated by a figure caught in midstride, based on a photograph of an athlete the artist had seen in a magazine. To differentiate the figure from its referent, Schnabel then interspersed the body of the running man with a large face that inhabits his body, abstracting it. Progressing from the first panel to the second and third, the work becomes increasingly fractured, yet allusive elements shine through; the neon tubes of a juke box, signs illuminating a theater entrance, and footsteps that track across the canvas, all hint at a night of illicit fun as imagined in the mind of someone whose conception of nightlife rests solely in theory and imagination. In the center there is a wrapped, mummy-like figure, surrounded on either side by glimpses of characters both sinister and enticing. The rightmost panel is the most expressive and densely layered. The section is dominated by bodies that crackle with electricity and radiate expressive auras that illuminate a complex and foreboding architectural setting.
The highly layered composition interplays with Schnabel’s comprehensive application of paint on velvet that defies conceptions of the standard visual effects endemic to painting. The work is luminescent. Thin layers of paint are absorbed into the velvet, molting the ground and transforming the texture of the picture plane. More thickly applied oil and modeling paste sit against the surface, radiating light against the pitch backdrop. Some strokes dissipate on their edges into hairline cracks, giving each line an effervescent glow. The lines that delineate figures are drawn and redrawn, first in white then yellow, meeting passages of thick impasto that transcend paint in their dimensionality and become sculptural. The thick marks rise like waves across the surface, only to be scraped across halfway. All of this contrasts the velvet, whose “light-absorbing capacity creates an indefinite depth”(Gert Schiff in Julian Schnabel and the Mythography of Feeling, Julian Schnabel exh. cat., Pace Gallery New York, 1984 n.p.).
Discussing his practice, Schnabel has stated “a painting can function as a record of love felt. It can take as much abuse and bear as much love as you want to pour into it… it can show somebody that you’ve never met how you feel” (Julian Schnabel, Nicknames of Maitre d’s and Other Excerpts from Life, New York, 1987, p. 81). Nicknames of Maitre d’s captures feelings by describing it through all senses, utilizing a visual cacophony to bear out a singular perception.
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