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Studio Visit with J.L. Schnabel & danielle vogel August 11, 2010

Posted by amberellagallery in Uncategorized.
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In Progress Paintings by J.L. Schnabel

In anticipation for the upcoming exhibition PLANCHETTE at Amberella Gallery, we took a visit to J.L. Schnabel’s beautiful Fairmount home to take a peek around her studio. Schnabel, a triple threat, divides her time between painting, writing for Hi Fructose Magazine, and working on her jewelry line Blood Milk. Oh, and did we mention that she also runs The Toothless Cat Gallery as well? We were able to catch up with Schnabel and get a sneak peak of what you can expect to find this weekend at the opening.

This studio visit would not be complete with out hearing from Danielle Vogel, the counterpart of PLANCHETTE. Vogel, a long time friend of Schnabel’s, currently resides in Colorado where she is a candidate for a PhD in Writing and Poetics at the University of Denver. Vogel is presently writing a novel, aspects which will be featured in PLANCHETTE.  Unfortunately we were not able to visit her in Colorado, but thanks to the internet we could interview her as well!

Schnabel's Paints & Pencils

Amberella Gallery to J.L. Schnabel: You describe your aesthetic as illustrating the feminine experience; you also used words such as traumatic & supernatural. Could you elaborate on these ideas?

J.L.Schnabel: I always approach my work with the female voice/ character in mind when writing or painting, or even creating jewelry. I’m most interested in the traumatized or wounded psyche, because I feel that from this place the battle for the self is fought. The supernatural has always interested me, for as long as I can remember. Since the supernatural seems to manifest only rarely in my life, I like to explore it through all facets of my work. I’m on a constant quest for it and my way of seeking it out and trying to grasp it is through making things with my hands.

Vogel's Studio

AG to Danielle Vogel: JL Schnabel describes her aesthetic as illustrating the feminine experience. How does your writing relate to this theme?

Danielle Vogel: When I was small, I would wait until the house would quiet with night, and then, sometimes, I would press my lips hard upon the thin metal grid of my window screen.  I would press and talk through this clutched space, all the time pressing harder, so that when I would release, my lips and nose would be latticed, and it felt like someone was responding. Years later, the window’s screen was replaced with flimsier webbing, and I began writing.

When I write, my narratives search for this place: the place in which a body—my body—might commune with itself.  I don’t know much about how other women move through the world, but I’ve spent most of my life trying to locate myself.  I’ve always felt very separate from my body: a disembodied voice in a skeleton never really intimate with itself.   The writing that I find myself drawn to create reflects this dislocation and the desire to cleave a voice toward or away from its body.  I’m interested in reflecting the body in which I’ve grown and how I’ve been able to, at times, stitch my incorporeal and corporeal parts together.

Planchette Altar (Planchette made by HR Hegnauer)

Altar with Miniature Rhino Constellation in Vogel's Studio

AG to JL: You mentioned that your education at a Christian boarding school helped to inform some of your imagery. Is there any specific experience, or set of experiences that helped to create this interest?

JL: I’ve always been attracted to the ornate and grotesque imagery (stabbed hearts worn outside of the body, bloody tears, serpents) found in Catholic churches but it wasn’t until I was forced to read the Bible nearly every day that I found myself really interested in what these symbols meant within their original context and what they could mean when removed and reassigned. Although there wasn’t much iconography around at the school I attended (it being Christian and not Catholic) I was immersed in the stories of the Bible and a lot of what’s in there is really bizarre and terrifying. Prophets raising the dead, plagues of locusts, demonic possession, Armageddon etc. Which all relates back to my interest in the supernatural as well.

AG to JL: You received an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School and you are a self-taught painter. You seem to excel in both creative outlets. How does receiving a higher education in writing compare to receiving no formal education in painting? How do you think being a self-taught painter has benefited you?

JL: I find that most of my process is intuitive, which is both comforting and intense. I rely a lot on my formal writing education to get me through rough patches in my visual work; I learned to trust my voice and vision. I think what’s benefited me being self -taught is I don’t think too much with a technical outlook, I just dive right in and hope for the best. I still feel like a beginner when it comes to painting and luckily I have some talented friends who I reach out to when I need help.

AG to JL + DV: I was fascinated by the fact that you two have a private blog where you share images and works in progress.  Even the text conversation on Schnabel’s iphone seemed intensely personally and bursting with creative inspiration, can you talk about the long distance relationship that you two have been able to maintain?

JL: I’ve always been interested in having an “art community” as the Surrealists did. They would get together and share ideas and play games to invoke their collective consciousness/ creativity. Being a relatively shy person my art “community” is tiny, but I find that the creative discourse I have with Danielle has been very fruitful over the years, even more so in the last year that we have focused our energies on this project. I think it’s important for every creative type to have at least one person with whom they can honestly share their work with and vice versa. For us, we luckily have a similar “story” that we want to tell with our work. Being so far away from one another has been a challenge but thankfully there’s the internet and modern technology. .  . .

DV: I feel so very lucky to have been able to get to know J.L. for the past ten years! While I was living in Brooklyn, J.L. and I visited one another frequently. When I moved a year ago, we made a pact to keep up our correspondence and to let the other know of the things we were creating on opposite sides of the country.  Our Conjoined Divinations blog was born from this promise. In the space of our blog we’ve been able to confess secrets, share stories, and ask one another questions to help deepen and explore our creative practices.

Planchette Necklace by Blood Milk in Schnabel's Studio

Handmade Scroll by Vogel & Planchette by Blood Milk in Vogel's Studio

AG to JL + DV: PLANCHETTE is the result of a year + long on-going dialog between the two of you. The significance of the title comes from the tool used to navigate an Ouija board. How does the Ouija board relate to your relationship?

JL: The Ouija was a dark and dangerous fixture in my childhood. Honestly, I’m still afraid of the board itself and only use the planchette as a symbol in my work. I believe in its literal application of communing with the dead, but also how this same process could be a way to communicate with the unconscious. It’s like a supernatural antenna, divining unspoken messages from the beyond the waking world as well as the dark terrain of ourselves.

DV: The planchette and its Ouija board are the tools used to commune between the physical and nonphysical worlds.  I think J.L. would agree with me when I say that painting and writing (and really all creative forms) are doing just that: they are creating communions between forms.

The Ouija board has always been important to me.  I’ve moved across the country many times and I still have my mother’s board from the 70s.  I’ve always been enchanted by the board—how whole life stories can rise in the space of an hour as the planchette glides its way across and between the signs.  When I write, I imagine my hand as the planchette that ghosts its way around the keys of my computer or across a sheet of paper.

This past year J.L. and I have meditated on the planchette together; it’s been a symbol reminding us of the deep connective tissues we are creating through our correspondences.  For this show, J.L. and I are inviting people to act as the planchette and divine the spaces between our works to see what stories arise.

Schnabel's Studio Desk

AG to JL: Circus freaks, conjoined twins, BeetleJuice, Frida Kahlo were just a few of sources of inspiration that you mentioned. Is there anything besides the dialog with Danielle that is informing your current work?

JL: The connective thread of that list is my fascination with the grotesque; being simultaneously repelled and attracted. I believe this is the heart of all of my work, finding beauty in objects or ideas that are typically horrifying or ugly to most people. Besides Danielle’s writings, (which are the main inspiration for this body of work,) I’ve been really interested in isolation / dislocation. It’s scary to be lost at sea, trying to find your way to shore. I’ve had a reoccurring dream of a black sea and somehow this has wormed its way into all of my recent paintings.

Vogel's hand made scrolls

Vogel's hand made scrolls

AG to DV: JL Schnabel said that your current work is based around two women in a mental hospital. Could you relate on the overall theme or story or stories of this book?

DV: The Memory of a Color is a nonlinear narrative that explores the limits of desire, language, memory, and a female body as it learns to hate itself because of what and how it loves.  I’m interested in the languageless spaces of desire and trauma, and how a body learns to language these spaces.  The first time I fell in love with a woman, I found myself wanting to create an entirely new language around what was happening to me.  The words I had been given—homosexual, queer, fag, dyke, lesbian—were not words I wanted in my mouth or on my body.  The characters in my manuscript are from a time when homosexuals were commonly called invertsThe Memory of a Color is concerned with the limits of forced inversion.  The manuscript tracks these fluctuating inversions and how the main character must learn to renegotiate herself.  After she is admitted into the asylum, her doctors begin a series of “cures.”  It is because of their insistence that she must be “corrected” that her body splits itself into two forms.  She becomes herself and also her male-self, conjoined.  The manuscript becomes the journey of a girl as she learns the liminality of gendered bodies.

AG to DV: What are some on the major influences for you while you write your novel?

DV: The conjoined sister and brother came to me in a dream.  I fell in love with them.  Connected at the coccyx, they will never be able to fully see one another, and one of them must always move in reverse.  Growing up I always felt split in two.  Sometimes I would tell people stories about my twin sister (I don’t really have one) who was born with schizophrenia and who was sent to an asylum when we were young.  I carried this story with me through the beginning of high school.  When my best friend found out the story was false she wouldn’t talk to me for a week!  But I still feel like that story is true; there was always a part of me that I couldn’t become intimate with and that I couldn’t accept, so I locked her in an asylum.  I would also often say, “If I were a boy, I could…”  These twins came to me shortly after I made the difficult and irreversible decision to come out to my family.  The dream of them was a recurring one, and I almost always watched them move as if underwater: slow and out of focus.

Also around this time a man assaulted me.  After the assault I began having vivid memories of myself as a child.  I was catching fractions of conversations that I had possibly overheard, and I was reliving bright stretches of memory that I did not know I remembered.  I became obsessed with tracking these nonlinear memories.  It wasn’t so much the trauma of being trespassed and violated that I was concerned with, but how my body multiplied in order to—for lack of a better word—survive.  In sleeplessness, and through a hyperawareness, I became this flickering and translucent thing.  I gave these characteristics to the sister of the twins, and soon I began dreaming of the girl separate from her brother. I then created a world for them in language.

Also, years after beginning this manuscript, J.L. and I began a blog, Conjoined Divinations.  This was a place to meet, like the magical pages of a marble notebook filled with letters that you pass back and forth between classes in junior high.  In the pages of the blog we’ve shared letters in which we’ve spoken about the dreams and reservations of our work.

While writing this manuscript, I also collected Victorian doctors’ manuals, asylum ephemera, 19th century birth records from upstate New York, and 19th century diaries from female patients. Some books that I return to again and again as I write are Women of the Asylum by Jeffrey L. Geller and Maxine Harris, The Architecture of Madness by Carla Yanni, The Writing of the Disaster by Maurice Blanchot, and Asylum by Christopher Payne.  I’ve also been intrigued by Isabel Miller’s process of writing Patience & Sarah.  Miller and her partner used an Ouija board to communicate with the lesbian couple that originally inspired the main characters of the novel.

Vogel's hand made scrolls

OPENING RECEPTION FOR PLANCHETTE is this Saturday August 14th from 7-llpm

1050 N. Hancock Street

The Piazza Suite 62

Philadelphia, PA 19123



1. ragtime seance - August 11, 2010

So nice to see J.L’s studio ! It’s absolutely perfect !
Also, I can’t wait to see the painting in the first picture, the one on the left with the black hair !


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