Painter and director Julian Schnabel, wearing a white robe and velvet slippers fit for a Venetian gondolier, opens the door of his extravagant New York home in downtown Manhattan during October 2000. This is where the most important scenes from his first film “Basquiat” were shot.

How did it feel to win two prizes for your film “Before Night Falls” at the Venice Film Festival?

Being at the festival was wonderful enough. I always thought that the lead actor, Javier Bardem, would win as best actor, but I didn’t expect to win as well for the Jury Prize. It is almost hard to believe how I’ve won, but the film is seeing great success at The New York Film Festival, and we saw success in Toronto too. Yes, there have been amazing reviews and the newspapers have written a lot about the film.

Are you expecting an Oscar?

If there’s justice in the world, I think Javier should be nominated. Audiences are excited about his performance.

Before Night Falls

Before Night Falls (2000)

Now you are back in New York in your house, in your big painting studio. What are you going to do now?

My life here is a life of privilege. I can work alone, and I feel free. Cinema, on the other hand, is about working with others and creating group spirit. People understand films better than paintings.

Do you live off of your paintings?

Yes, though the film brought in a bit of money. I didn’t make it for that though, but the results are positive all the same.

Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp in Before Night Falls

Javier Bardem & Johnny Depp, Before Night Falls (2000)

What is the state of the art market today?

I really don’t know. I don’t deal in it. I think about my own paintings. And things are going very well for me. I have a lot of shows planned. In 2001, there will be an exhibition of my work in Milan. I will have a personal show in October at SIAC in Paris – an exhibition planned by Gian Enzo Sperone. Now I’m also having a show in Mexico, and I will be on my way there in the next few days.

What have you been painting lately?

I’ve been making paintings with a yellow-gold background or a black-and-white background that incorporate writing. Lately I’ve been putting them in large white frames. I even did a sketch in this really unique pink colour for Al Gore’s presidential campaign.

Can you make any predictions about the election?

I don’t know, but I really hope Gore wins.

Are you interested in politics?

No. But even if you aren’t interested, things happen, and you need to respond. An artist needs to be responsible for what he helps bring about in this world.

Do you work a lot?

I work all the time. Working is thinking. Now, for example, after I’ve finished making the film, I have to work on promoting it. It’s important that many people see it.

Javier Bardem & Johnny Depp in Before Night Falls

Javier Bardem & Johnny Depp, Before Night Falls (2000)

How many paintings do you do?

It depends on the year. In 1979 I made thirteen. This year I made thirty.

Are you aware of the fact that some of the richest people in the world are among your collectors?

(He laughs) I don’t know. I’ve never counted how much money my collectors have in their pockets. And, look, as a young man, I even drove a cab and worked as a cook, but I felt like a painter from the time I was young. I never decided what I was going to do. I have always been a painter.

Portrait of Alba Clemente oil, plates, bondo on wood, 60 x 48", 1987

Portrait of Alba Clemente
oil, plates, bondo on wood, 60 x 48″, 1987

Did you have any particular teachers?

No. When I was young, I lived in Texas and I didn’t follow the trends and was a bit removed from the world. I wasn’t interested in Jasper Johns’ or Robert Rauschenberg’s paintings. I loved Francis Bacon. There are some of his paintings that I still like today, but as time has gone on I have less interest in them. And obviously I am a huge Picasso fan.

In your opinion, who are the greatest artists of your generation?

Two painters that I’ve always had a great interest in are Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. Among the artists of my generation, I think about Francesco Clemente or about Luigi Ontani’s small photographs and paintings. As I get older, however, I don’t look much at other people’s work. I need to concentrate on my own.

Large Girl with No Eyes oil and wax on canvas, 162 x 148", 2001

Large Girl with No Eyes
oil and wax on canvas, 162 x 148″, 2001

What kind of relationship did you have with Basquiat, the (now deceased) painter who was the subject of your film?

He was someone I knew who had the same difficulties in the art world I had. We had the same experience. It’s just that he died and I didn’t. I wanted to make a film about him so that the truth wasn’t skewed, but he wasn’t an important painter in my life. I didn’t think much of his painting. I would like to add that I really like Antonin Artaud’s drawings.

Basquiat (1996)

Basquiat (1996)

What relationship do you have with the United States?

I live in a self-imposed exile, in my house.

Would you consider yourself to be a passionate man?

Yes. I’m enthusiastic and optimistic. It might all go wrong, but it doesn’t matter.


22nd October, 2000