Wednesday evening, the Tripoli Gallery drew a crowd to the Upper East Side that rarely bothers to travel north of 14th Street. A woman in gold lame MC Hammer-style pants mixed with more downtown mainstays like Michelle Harper, Aimee Mullins, Yvonne Force Villareal and Casey Fremont. The occasion was the opening of Lola Montes Schnabel’s exhibition “Within Reach,” a mixture of large-scale, primordial paintings and smaller, gouache works. Arriving with a packaged candle in hand—Diptyque’s Feu de Bois to help obliterate the scent of oil paint—Schnabel kiss-kissed the young Brant brothers before giving us a few minutes to discuss her work.


Where did the title Within Reach come from?
Well, I guess you could reverse it and say it’s a reach within, so just being able to close your eyes and find a place where there are no houses or people and create a landscape, where you really listen to yourself, is what I was trying to capture in the paintings. A place where you’re just naked, which is very hard to find. There aren’t many places left that don’t have hotels on top of them or satellite towers.

When you were painting, how did you access that place?
I painted the place and then I actually went away for Christmas to Mexico and I found myself on a beach with just rocks where I could take my clothes off and I thought, Oh my god, I arrived in this drawing. Sometimes you make things and then they come true.

The large paintings have a very restrained color palette.
I wanted to focus on the space and I thought if I just used the same colors I could drive myself more on how I was using the space. There are lots of colors in there, you’ve got the whole rainbow, actually, it’s just that they’re primary. In painting you can make a red sky and yellow sea, which is the great luxury you have that you can’t really do in photography or film.


How would you describe this landscape to someone who’s not seeing your paintings?
I feel like there’s a spirit of memory in rocks and clouds that are always changing and so I just wanted to paint things that are watching us over time but we don’t even know it. So the figure is kind of hesitant and I feel there’s a kind of epidemic in my generation where there’s this huge fear of entering your life or where you see yourself. So that distance between here and there works into it. And kind of getting strength from a rock, you know? It grounds you because there’s so much coming at us that it’s really hard for us to find that stillness.

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Have you found that stillness?
I just want to keep painting. I never see this stuff as a kind of accomplishment. I’m doing the best that I can in this moment of my life and I’m just going to do the best that I can next time.

Portrait: Paul Bruinooge of PatrickMcMullan; painting: courtesy of Tripoli Gallery