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
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.
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.
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.
Held hostage on a fictional desert island in Dana Schutz’s imagination, Frank is painted repeatedly, his lonely shipwrecked life put under the constant scrutiny of her brush. Obsessively reinventing his nature to her whim; Dana Schutz’s resulting paintings play out the dynamics of power struggle between creator and invention. In Frank in the Desert, Frank is now a hairy wild man, the do-gooder care worker or renegade ecologist of female fantasy. Dana Schutz paints her victim with sly familiarity: he’s fed up with the joke. Schutz retaliates by giving him sunburnt and blistered arms.
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.
Schutz uses painting as a means to invent things which just can’t exist in any other genre. In Chris’s Rubber Soul, she uses two-dimensional medium to create a sculpture: half archaic technology, half totemic fetish. Bound by no other logic than its own representation, Schutz offers a form for no other reason that its own contemplation, of beauty, humour, plausibility and possible function.
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.
In Twister Mat , Schutz sets up a scene of malevolent intrigue. Using painting as a means to realise impossible scenarios, where the illogical is celebrated as the function of imagination, Schutz presents a picnic gone horrifically awry as pastoral normalcy. Both funny and revolting, Schutz uses surrealism to delve into primitive desire. Rotting in believable sun-baked atmosphere, Twister Mat invokes a carnal familiarity; the monstrous reinvented with a home-spun comfort.
Schutz has a way of producing horror that feels comfortably homey. A rack of swords in a creepy old house is delightful in its precarious violence. Schutz uses the unnatural elements of compositional painting to create a plausible scene of magic realism, a bizarre still life infused with mystery and implied narrative.