Dana SchutzDana Schutz: Paintings 2001-2005

New York City-based Dana Schutz's ecstatically imaginative paintings, executed in a vibrant, subjective palette, have made a major contribution to the discourse of painting since the artist first began exhibiting her work five years ago. This exhibition will bring together significant examples of the different bodies of work that constitute this young, celebrated artist's oeuvre.

Dana Schutz’s paintings begin in her head, with stories or situations she invents that develop into imaginary worlds, laid out in a vibrant and subjective palette, and with a sophisticated and remarkable mastering of the painting medium: “In my work, I imagine a place, a moment, and a fictional situation which meshes the premise of a practical situation with the absurd.” The first of these “meta-narratives,” as the artist describes them, was the “Frank from Observation” series (2002). Schutz imagined the fictional life of Frank, “the last man on earth,” observed by herself as “the last painter.” Frank is a lanky, sun burnt, zoned-out guy, posing in the nude amidst luxurious vegetation (Frank as Proboscis Monkey) or against the shimmering sea (Frank on a Rock). The story ends in a slippery hallucination as the subject matter begins to take a life of its own and Frank transforms into a dismembered and piled-up still life (Night in Day).
In The Breeders, Frank is “recycled” as Schutz fictionally uses his body parts as primary material to create the two musicians. Upon close observation, eyes, a foot, and a hand appear. This idea of “corporeal recycling” is taken to another level in the series of the “self-eaters” in 2003. The artist describes them as people who “could eat themselves, maybe out of compulsion or out of necessity, and then remake themselves out of their own digested material.” Some characters are shown eating their own limbs (Devourer, Self-eater #3) or swallowing each other (Lovers), while others are absorbed in the process of regenerating or reconfiguring themselves with different degrees of success. Some show artistic talents (Happy and New Legs), butothers demonstrate poor building skills (Twin Parts).

Sculpture is a constant reference in Dana Schutz’s work. It’s an important activity for many of her characters. Her own treatment of the figures is also very sculptural, as she explains: “ I often think of painting as building, like I’m building the space.” Indeed, the paint sometimes grows out of the canvas as the artist builds up in relief thick layers of paint. In other instances, she projects blobs of saturated paint onto the surface that disrupt the imagery and emphasize the surface plane, or add another level to the pictorial space.

In recent works, the situations have become more complex, as the self-eaters are now collaborating on building projects (Civil Planning, Hand). Politics are also coming into the picture. Party is a group portrait of the Bush Cabinet (with Condoleezza Rice at the center) represented as one big formless cluster trapped in microphone wires. Men’s Retreat shows Bill Gates, Dennis Klozlowski, and their corporate peers playing “trust fall,” finger painting, and wandering blind-folded in a colorful, tapestry-like landscape.

Whether gruesome or funny, unsettling or just absurd, Dana Schutz’s paintings also tell the story of the history of painting in the twentieth century (German Expressionism, Matisse and the Fauves, Gauguin and the Symbolists, and Philip Guston, among others). It is a history that the artist subtly makes her own. In doing so, she regenerates old material into a unique pictorial language that, just like her own narratives, has no beginning or end.

Dana Schutz (b. 1976, Livonia, Michigan) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her M.F.A. from Columbia University in 2002 and is the recipient of the Rose’s 2006 Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence Award.

The Lois Foster Wing
January 19 - April 9, 2006

Image Credit: Dana Schutz, Stare, 2003, Oil on canvas, 48.5 x 36 inches, Courtesy of the artist and Zach Fever Gallery, NY.