Magazine article Artforum International

Dana Schutz: Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York

Magazine article Artforum International

Dana Schutz: Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York

Article excerpt

TALENT AND IMAGINATION are easily misunderstood. What passes for imagination today is often just a recontextualization of cultural signs; and talent is easily confused with knowingness or a desire for attention. Only occasionally does an artist come along who has both, and is able to use these capabilities to cast an original narrative idea into pictorial form. At age thirty-five, Dana Schutz is that rarity. Her paintings depict weird or funny characters and scenes cut from whole cloth. But the imagining is inseparable from the paint itself. The brush feels like an extension of the painter, visceral and often surprising. These paintings advance the role of imagination in art in a painting-specific way: It's one thing to see this or that image in the mind's eye, but it's another thing to paint it. Schutz does so in a way that feels natural and unforced.

"Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels," a survey of some thirty canvases and a dozen drawings, curated by Helaine Posner, shows a decade of near-continuous growth. From the very first, Schutz possessed an impressively confident hand. She works in a direct, unconflicted manner, laying down medium-wide, decisive brushstrokes in close-valued, high-key colors of good intensity and saturation. What she can do with a brush is real enough to herself that it becomes so for us as well--essentially the romantic temperament in art. But for Schutz, virtuosity is married to a pictorial vision that is situational--as in situation comedy. The paintings appear to answer offscreen questions, such as, "What if you could eat your own face?" Schutz's painting mind goes places where few if any have gone before.

Physically, the paintings are complex. Often they are built up with cascades of fractured shapes of pure color that make them feel subjective and spontaneous. Schutz seldom loses her sense of humor, nor does she take refuge in easy irony. Her confidence allows for improvisation and material perversity. She takes obvious pleasure in fucking up the surface of her paintings, breaking the image as much as making it. Her work makes me think of a child who can amuse herself with any material at hand--an empty spool of thread will work as well as an iPad.

Schutz's color has a 1960s period feel to it: Acidic greens, purples, tans, and pinks mix with orange, grayed and pure blues, and turquoise like they belong together, without a lot of blending. She is especially good with a range of greens--colors not found in nature but used to describe it. Her way of painting has what used to be called plasticity, a no-nonsense, unfussy way of building images. The scale of her brushstrokes is almost always right, and the gesture is used to architectural effect. Her style takes care of itself--it has real work to do. It builds rather than illustrates. Her approach to form doesn't come out of cartooning; she doesn't just draw with the brush. She is a constructor, and the structures that emerge from the paint are the right ones--the connection of her arm and shoulder with her wrist and fingers is more convincing than that of any other painter her age.

Schutz makes good use of a first principle of representation: Where the plane changes, the value changes along with it. Shifts of value define the edge of a plane in space; a dark shape next to a lighter one at the point where the plane changes direction creates a sense of form. By exploiting this simple principle Schutz is able to barrel through densely packed scenes efficiently, using a big brush and not getting caught up in illustrational details. The light sources in her paintings do not always make sense, but it's not really a problem. She is intelligent and grounded enough to allow a wide range of influences into her work. In the larger compositions, such as Presentation, 2005, the presiding spirit seems to be James Ensor, but for the smaller, more focused paintings, the closest stylistic neighbor is David Park; both are American symbolists who can be taken for realists. …

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