There's suitable excitement about the Denver Art Museum's Van Gogh exhibit, but clearly an inappropriate lack of attention for another show coming this fall, Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels.
Schutz is new to me, but not to the art world proper. The Brooklynite has been painting for years, enough to gain her a traveling exhibit organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. The show's Denver stop will feature 30 paintings and eight drawings done between 2001 and 2010, with an accompanying engagement at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which will display a works-on-paper show.
Business aside, this is what's amazing about Schutz: her ability to mix the tender with the revolting.
Schutz, like the late artist Francis Bacon, doesn't paint in a comforting realm. Her figures are harsh and ugly, contorted with pain or illuminated with sickening shades. That ferocious outlook is then tempered by beautiful, luscious colors that look remarkably juicy and wet. Such vibrancy, mixed with animated line work and small doses of shading, goes so far as to remind me of children's book illustrations, but that isn't to imply that Schutz is working on any kind of gimmick. She's operating at an adult level in every way.
To illustrate, take this passage from Schutz's artist profile on the Saatchi Gallery website, for one work called "Face Eater:"
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.
Or, more viscerally:
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 [s]ympathetically benign, or something much more carnivorous and psychotic.
Though different in spirit, these works call to mind Jean Dubuffet, a post-World War II French artist whose style depicted man in a childlike manner, an approach he felt was more "authentic" than beauty. In a world blown apart by hideous warfare, Dubuffet's characters are scrawled and simplistic, scratched out of surfaces caked with straw, sand or tar. Humans are no longer above animals or monsters; they have, in fact, tendencies of both. See Schutz's "Devourer" below:
Even outwardly softer pieces like "Guitar Girl," below, rumble with undercurrents of unease. The girl's face recalls "The Scream" in its floating and moaning; her eyes are two-tone and blank. Her fingers disappear into the hole of her instrument, blurring into a mysterious, watery space. Wind shifts her hair and mingles it with the clouds, and her toes are large and weirdly detailed in places. Flat black holes emerge on top of the subject field, like an old film reel burning apart. It all adds up to something subtly hair-raising.
If the Face Had Wheels opens Nov. 11 and runs through Jan. 13, 2013. Admittance included in general admission.