From a series of paintings of auto-cannibals, Face Eater is funny and bizarre. The dark background pushes the full horror of the subject to intimate proximity: a zoom lens view of the slimy suggestion of a tongue lathering up the last of his own eyeballs. A parable of confrontation and discomfort, Schutz invents a race that would rather swallow itself rather than cope with its own inadequacy.
Dana Schutz’s work has been described as 'teetering on the edge of tradition and innovation’. ’My paintings are loosely based on metanarratives. The pictures float in and out of pictorial genres. Still lifes become personified, portraits become events and landscapes become constructions. I embrace the area between which the subject is composed and decomposing, formed and formless, inanimate and alive. Recently I have been making paintings of sculptural goddesses, transitory still lifes, people who make things, people who are made and people who have the ability to eat themselves. Although the paintings themselves are not specifically narrative, I often invent imaginative systems and situations to generate information. These situations usually delineate a site where making is a necessity, audiences potentially don’t exist, objects transcend their function and reality is malleable .’ Dana Schutz 2004
Translating her expressionistic style of painting into a homespun tapestry, Dana Schutz proves to be a master of colour and composition. Her visceral brushwork is sanitised as flat shapes and pantone hues, and focuses the impetus of her narrative on the purity of its design. Dana Schutz's carpet acts as both fictional tableau and object of kitsch fetish, a plausible craft project by one of her painted characters. In this work, Dana Schutz renders her befuddled musician with her trademark gawky glory. With his pop eyes, purple skin, pigeon toes, and hunchback, her rug becomes a compelling site of discomforting leisure. Drawing from the trippy fashion of the seventies, Schutz weaves her own décor product, reconstituting her zany brand of surreal horror as a monstrosity of lifestyle design.
Death Comes to Us All is the painting equivalent to a psychotic episode; Schutz’s man and machine meld in convincingly scary hallucination. Dana Schutz’s paintings draw a fine line between escapism and invasion: her elaborate scenes are not just depictions of fantasy, but portals to plausible realities where 'life’ and 'art’ converge. Creating parallel worlds contrived in their own rules of logic, Schutz paints an interconnectedness between function and form. Adopting the role of the artist as a Dr Frankenstein-like power, Dana Schutz consolidates figuration and abstraction as a monstrous experiment, the effect of artistic vision spun out of control.
Schutz’s portrait of an albino is as grotesque as it is captivating. Rendered in thick impasto, she draws out her subject’s pasty whiteness in the most sculptural way: the eyes given a troll-like wrinkle, the mouth simultaneously crusty and drooling. Unlike historical court paintings of dwarfs and mutants, Schutz’s painting isn’t a folly, but an honest confession of repulsion and seduction.
Imagining herself as the last painter on earth, and Frank as the last subject (and audience), Dana Schutz’s Frank series explores the power relationships of artist/subject/viewer as a witty (if not sadomasochistic) ménage à trois. Dana Schutz paints her protagonist over and over again, like a sad calendar pin-up, ruefully exploited in different poses and settings. In Frank on the Beach, she has him play sex-kitten, sprawled like a second-rate rent boy in the muddy surf at sunset.
Schutz treads a fine line between empathy and repugnance. Envisioning a race of self-eaters, she pictures both the nurturing and self-destructive qualities of an aberrant addiction. In Feelings , her character is frantically rendered with wide brush marks and soft tones, giving a human sensitivity to its apparent grief. Hands to mouth, Schutz’s painting dissolves into dysfunctional breakdown, no longer rendered, but squeezed urgently from the tube. Contorted in crippling desperation, it’s unclear if this act of instinctive self-comfort is ympathetically benign, or something much more carnivorous and psychotic.
Sneeze does everything a portrait shouldn’t: contorted and unflattering, Schutz sets up the serene stillness of memento just to interrupt it with high-velocity drool and repulsive gobs of snot. It’s a comic take on painting that’s just fundamentally wrong. More akin to an unfortunate photographic snapshot than honoured art tradition, Schutz uses her medium to embellish the horror of embarrassment, exaggerating a moment of inopportune affliction to a permanent monument of public ridicule.