My life-changing week in the world of art

Since I’ve been back working in ceramics and taking a painting class at the Academy, I’ve been spending more time at the Museum of Art.

On Sunday, the museum opened their “Cafe Dolly” exhibit to the public. But I had the opportunity to tour the exhibit with the museum’s Director and Chief Curator, Bonnie Clearwater, and Julian Schnabel – one of the exhibit’s three featured artists – as part of a Master Painting Workshop with Schnabel.

The exhibit includes 75 paintings by Schnabel, Francis Picabia (1879–1953) and J.F. Willumsen (1863–1958).

The morning of the workshop started with coffee and a tour of the unopened exhibit hosted by the pajama-clad Schnabel himself. I found the magnitude of his work marvelous – he said he decided to give his paintings height because he wanted to capture the atmosphere of Venice – here you can see the scale as one of his works is installed:

Installation in progress.

Installation in progress.

Schnabel and Clearwater led our group of about 40 artists on an entertaining behind-the-scenes preview through the exhibit’s two floors. The work explores and challenges the tradition of painting through mostly painterly and figurative pieces in striking colors. The contrasts of the American, French and Danish artists are complimented by a surprising amount of similarities.

Julian Schnabel leading a group of artists around the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale - his piece "Big Girl" on the wall above and also on the back of his jacket.

Julian Schnabel leading a group of artists around the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale – his piece “Big Girl” on the wall above is also on the back of his jacket.

I soaked up much knowledge and inspiration during the tour with Schnabel, but here are 10 highlights:

  1. “I think it’s important to stand up close to paintings. Go on, get up it.”
  2. “Great painting always seems to rise to the top.” [In reference to painters who never received recognition while they were alive.]
  3. He likes painters that paint quickly – he’s not that interested in paintings that take a long time. “All the paintings in this show have been painted quickly.”
  4. “You don’t make a drawing first and then fill it in with paint.” [About the creation of a painting.]
  5. “I find it important to destroy the boundary of abstraction and figuration.”
  6. “They call painting a practice because it takes a lot of practice.”
  7. “Paint from life – not photographs.”
  8. Schnabel produced most of the frames himself because he “wanted the painting to walk out into the room.”
  9. “If you can’t have fun, don’t do it.” [About painting.]
  10. “Even though Picabia and Willumsen are dead, their art is alive.”

After the tour was lunch followed by a lecture with the curators from Denmark, then everyone was to break into studio rooms at the Academy to work and display their art for the critique.

Whoops…I really had no idea what the day would include so I didn’t even bring supplies or work! I rushed home when we broke for lunch and grabbed a pile of my watercolor paintings – literally pulled a WIP off my easel, the tape still around its edges.

Most of the painters were working in oil or acrylic, some mixed media, and on large-scale canvases of advanced work that elaborately communicate developed ideas to their viewers.

Me? Well, I had a pile of paintings on paper – in a medium I adore. So when it was announced that Schnabel was in the building and had started critiquing in the room next to ours – you can imagine the level of anxiety that washed over my body. I wanted to hide under the table.

Artist Pepe Mar, Bonnie Clearwater at MOAFL

Fellow artists in the studio space at the Museum's Academy.

Fellow painters in the studio space at the Museum’s Academy.

Fortunately I’d made friends with Deborah Mitchell, the executive director of an artists in residency program in the Everglades. She took me under her wing, shared her supplies and wisdom to keep me from bolting out the door.

We were the last few artists he reviewed that day and my hands were shaking – apparently he’d been quite honest, which resulted in some harsh reviews. When it was my turn, I introduced myself, explaining I’ve been painting one year – predominantly with watercolors.

Sifting through my pile of paintings he said he could see I was a beginner and still experimenting with technique, etc. Then he paused as his hand landed on one. He picked it up, looking closely and said, “But this is the best painting I’ve seen all day.”

I thought I was going to faint or maybe I’d heard him incorrectly but when I saw the rest of the room had stopped what they were doing and gathered around my table, taking pictures – I started to smile. My teacher, Lark Keeler, and the friends I’d made were all beaming. I was stunned and speechless.


He said I had a delicate eye for color and the medium and even aligned my work with Francesco Clemente‘s – an Italian contemporary artist who often works with watercolor. He told me I was on the right path and that I had something special. I think I managed to grunt an excessive amount of “thank yous,” smiling ear to ear, then he moved on to the next critique.


My watercolor landscape Julian was fond of in the art critique (yes, this was my WIP – tape still on the paper).

As he was leaving the room, signing autographs and posing for photos, he pointed at me and said “Hey, hey you.” I turned and looked. He asked, “What’s your name again?” I answered him. He looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t stop. Keep doing what you’re doing.” And walked out of the room.

The whole experience was incredible; Social Miami documented some highlights of the day in this video.

Saturday night was the member preview opening of the exhibit at the museum. My sister loaned me a leather Marcelo Giacobbe dress, so I got all dolled up and attended the exhibit opening. I walked the exhibit and saw him upstairs. He greeted me with a hug and said, “Congratulations on your watercolors.”

It was surreal, I was beaming. Everyone was so supportive and enthusiastic, coming up and asking where they could find my work.

The exhibit opened to the public the next day. Clearwater hosted a talk with Schnabel for 400 guests in the auditorium. She talked about the first time she saw Julian’s work – it was 1979 in New York City – saying it had given her a physical response, an “amazing jolt.” She finds him “infinitely fascinating.”

Here are 10 of my favorite highlights from the talk:

  1. One of his catalysts for painting was to start questioning things in the modern art world; he also enjoys “commandeering everyday objects for other uses.”
  2. When a phone went off while he was talking he stopped to ask everyone to please make sure their ringers were off because he finds himself “extremely sensitive to anything that’s not his voice.” The auditorium laughed.
  3. He noted that Willumsen didn’t have to succumb to the art world because it wasn’t his main source of income; so he had his own independence where he painted what he wanted to.
  4. Which brought him to his next observation: One of the most prevalent unifying concepts seen in the exhibition is that all three artists were much very independents. “They didn’t paint what people wanted to see.”
  5. We talked a lot about art being a freedom and not caring what people say about it but just that it’s a freedom to be able to make it.
  6. “Don’t think your work has to always look the same.” He gave an example from the Chinese culture of serious artists who change their name mid-career so that they could be reborn as a new independent.
  7. “It’s the attitude of the artist that appears in paintings.”
  8. When asked about the difference between his two mediums (film and painting) he noted that everything revolves around editing, “even painting. You get to select what is and isn’t in your work.”
  9. “You don’t know what you’re going to do as an artist. Painting what you see isn’t special, but if you look at it like a privilege to be painting you will start seeing paintings everywhere.”
  10. He also mentioned there’s a difference between the art world and the world of art – noting that Clearwater is known for creating the latter.

Last week was a whirlwind of beauty and learning for me in the world of art – I emerge filled with gratitude.

Thanks for letting me gush. For more about the exhibit, my colleague Ben Crandell wrote a great piece about it. Few more photos from the week, below:

This entry was published on October 14, 2014 at 7:49 pm. It’s filed under making a mess in the studio. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “My life-changing week in the world of art

  1. eugenia cass on said:

    As I read this I had the biggest smile on my face – I’m so so excited and proud for you! He’s right, keep doing what you’re doing! What a magical moment. Love you – let that freak flag fly!

  2. What a wonderful breakthrough Meredith! Well deserved! Keep it up!

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