It’ s 36 hours before the opening of his new show, For Esmé — with Love and Squalor, and Julian Schnabel needs some new rocks. Sheets of gravel line the base of his over 15-foot-tall sculpture, ESMÉ, in the ivy-lined courtyard of Los Angeles’ Pace Gallery. However, something about the gravel’s sun-bleached gray isn’t working with the whitewashed, cast silicon bronze. It isn’t exactly a small patch of gravel, either — roughly enough to cover a basketball court. But you don’t become America’s arguably most famous living painter by loosening your standards. So out went the old rocks and in came the new, noticeably upping the maestro’s mood.
“Well the rocks were gray, and it was kind of abysmal,” Schnabel says when we meet the day before the opening, as hot-pink bougainvillea blows across the newly earth-toned gravel. “Now it looks like we’re in Rajasthan or something like that,” he adds. “You know how they make a red dirt path for you?” Not really, no. “Now it’s more inviting.”