Set against a backdrop of deep carmine, a mysterious form casts a shadow across the landscape. Much like Edvard Munch’s The Scream, the atmosphere in The Dancers (for Pasolini) by Julian Schnabel is haunting and evocative, as though the solitary figure faces an unknown threat. Like many of Schnabel’s paintings, The Dancers possesses three dimensional sculptural elements, such as raised surfaces, bringing its status as a three-dimensional painting to the forefront, and reminding the viewer of its very tangible physical presence. Schnabel has stated that “the concreteness of a painting can’t help but allude to a world of associations that may have a completely other face than that of the image you are looking at” (J. Schnabel, CVJ: Nicknames of Maitre D’s and Other Excerpts From Life, New York 1987, p.41).
The title of the painting (and the dedication inscribed on its verso) suggests that Schnabel was paying tribute to the controversial writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who famously directed Salò (1975), and who’s mysterious murder sparked public outrage. In the original court testimony, Pasolini was presumed murdered by a young man with whom he was intimately involved. Decades later, however, evidence pointed to the possibility that he was the victim of a mafia-style killing, persecuted as a result of his involvement with the Italian Communist party.
The Dancers remains as a haunting and beautiful tribute to a troubled visionary, who created a lasting impact on film as an artistic medium, and was captured by one of the most innovative painters of his generation.