Phong Bui at The Brooklyn Rail:
Rail: Earlier you said you hoped a painting could be perceiving of perception, and observing observation. I wonder how the viewer, who is once removed, would be able to mediate the whole experience?
Schnabel: Well, it means different things in different mediums. If I’m making a film, for example, instead of making certain scenes more naturalistic I’d just change the color to a more of green palette so you know you’re watching a movie. Or there’s a cut in it that’s more abrupt, which may cause you to have a physical sensation. That may be a part of the narrative that I might desire, though somebody else might think, Oh, that looks like a mistake. And maybe that notion of idiosyncratic work, where something looks like it’s atypical in some way, or jarring, is something that I am attracted to. Around 2001 I was at the sculpture museum in Rome, and there were all these extraordinary busts and torsos installed all around the courtyard, but in the middle there was a tree that was nearly fossilized. I couldn’t believe there were a couple of leaves on it. It also had a brace on the bottom, cause it was so old, and I thought, Wow, that looks like something! So when I came home, I built Ahab (2001), which is very much like what I saw. I remember clearly, I felt like I knew what sculpture was at that moment. I knew what I needed to do.