Lola Montes Shakes Off Family Fame, Finds Individuality Abroad

The painter turned ceramist is exploring a deeper meaning behind her position in the art world, all while taking residency in Sicily

As the child of a renowned painter and award-winning filmmaker, Lola Montes has been proving herself to the world all her life.

The artist is one of the five children of Julian Schnabel, one of the major talents to emerge from New York’s 1970s art scene, and who has staked out a career that has kept him central within and beyond that world as he evolved from painter to international film director, winning major success and acclaim. However, his fame proved to be a subtle obstacle for Montes; her craving for individuality has often been set astray by the two-sided coin of an art world whispering, “Over there, is that Julian Schnabel’s daughter?”

“I feel so blessed to have been raised by the open-minded and talented people that shaped my vision,” Montes graciously tells LAMag at a preview of her latest show. “But I think all kids wonder what is innately true to themselves and not an influence.”

Lola Montes in her studio. (Photo by Alex Majoli.)

Montes had the presumed blessing of growing up in New York, which for her, proved to be more of a curse. Of course, having her father’s encouragement aided in her pursuit of the arts. But she says the city’s art scene was far less encouraging about her entry into the fray.

The Big Apple has always been the epicenter of American art. But it has long since abandoned the raw movements sprung by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, veering toward the pretentiously high brow. And the world of contemporary art has traditionally been diluted by men who raise a discriminatory brow at women artists; in 2022, this seems to remain all across the western world. According to The National Museum of Women in The Arts, only 13.7 percent of living artists represented in Europe and North America are women, while permanent collections across 18 prominent U.S. galleries are 87 percent male and 85 percent white.

For Montes, escaping this historical oppression of women and exploring her voice was accomplished with a move to the neglected cousin of the Italian mainland, Sicily.

“I’ve made thousand of paintings and thousands of drawings, and I’ve always been alone in my room making art,” Montes says. “With the environment that I set up in Sicily, there was none of this pressure anymore to be in New York City proving something to a bunch of guys.”

A walk-through of Lola Monte’s newest exhibition, Faccia d’Angelo, is a step onto the rocky coasts of the often outcasted land, with a glare into the mellow blue sea; it’s serene and surreal. Many pieces are tinted with an alluring blue—an unconscious calling to the color that occupies artistic spaces across Sicily.

Undine by Lola Montes.

Much like most of the region, Sicilian art descends from the mainland of Italy. No, anyone who is visiting should not expect the holy and mythological works made at the height of the Renaissance. There are no Michelangelo busts in Noto, nor any Da Vinci compositions in Ragusa, but that’s OK.

When Montes embarked on her journey into the forsaken “edge of the boot,” she didn’t expect anything shown in a Fellini or Rossellini film, but the cultural hotpot it’s known to be. In fact, she embraced the sharp deviation from the routine cultures of the United States, which she had known all her life, drew clay sourced from the volcanic ash of Mt. Etna, and partially abandoned her traditional medium, the canvas, for ceramics. The new medium presented a way for her to source from the land and delve deeper within her herself and her artistry.

“I feel very good about this show because I know that it came from a process where I went deep inside of myself with no outside influence,” Montes said. “It’s very singular and unique, the way I’ve approached also this material. I’m not making pots and dripping vessels, which I’ve seen a lot in ceramic; I’m trying to make fine art with this material that is seen as kind of a hobby for people.”

This is also undeniably Montes’ most personal work yet. Rather than being a simple service to the observer, the pieces are tasteful and comment on her surroundings. Community, in general, certainly has an entirely different meaning to her now, as she has resided in Sicily through the pandemic. For months, she says, she only spoke to the local butcher’s wife, fishermen in the area, and her dog. With a majority of her time dedicated to making ceramics, the pieces slowly became “like friends.”

“I couldn’t get a visa because the embassy was closed because of COVID. Basically, if I left, I couldn’t return to my boyfriend and my dog,” Montes said. “I was building a studio there because I needed a strong foundation for this new life. So, I stayed, and then clay saved my life.”

To view Monte’s newest exhibition yourself, visit Nino Mier Gallery’s Glassell Park location.

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