Now, curator Bruce Hartman has hung 17 of Schutz's paintings at the Johnson County Community College Gallery of Art. Though this show fails to explore any of Schutz's themes in depth, it nonetheless provides a good overview.
The work is thick with both metaphors and her medium. Schutz often uses paint to build up the surfaces of her canvases three-dimensionally. (In April, Schutz told Artforum magazine that she likens painting to a type of building.) In "Feelings," one of the Self Eaters paintings on display at JCCC, a blob of black, pea-green, salmon-pink and baby-blue paint -- coiled, snakelike, fresh from the tube -- appears directly below a young girl's mouth. If the glob's grotesqueness is any indication, this character must have emotional issues that provoke nauseating feelings.
The paintings have a freshness to them, perhaps because Schutz finds it necessary to get to work as soon as an idea hits her. "Paintings will change a lot during making them, so certain meanings may come out or disappear," she tells the Pitch. "I welcome multiple readings, so hopefully the paintings touch on many things." In a general sense, though, Schutz says the paintings "center on or are about the creative process or creation and destruction themes, which can be metaphors for many things."
JCCC's show also includes two paintings from Frank From Observation, a series displayed in Schutz's first solo exhibit at the LFL Gallery in New York City. In her statement for that show, Schutz explained that she created this work under the premise that she and Frank -- a make-believe character -- were the last people on Earth. "The man is the last subject and the last audience and, because the man isn't making any paintings, I am the last painter," she wrote. These paintings show a world in a time warp devoid of any concrete narrative; it's as though Frank has all the time in the world to pose, and Schutz the same amount of time to paint. It's not hard to suspend disbelief as Frank appears in various positions in front of different backdrops -- jungles, ice floes, a desert -- like a series of primordial high school senior portraits. Schutz's subject slips in and out of lucidity. Some paintings depict what Schutz describes as Frank's hallucinations; in one, the organs of the character's body hang from a small, wooden shacklike structure.
JCCC's show includes two portraits of the long-haired, pig-nosed character clutching a tree branch. In "Frank As a Proboscis Monkey," he stands calmly in front of a lushly painted, green jungle background. In "Frank at Night," he grasps his branch tightly in front of him as though he's hiding behind it or using it to ward off some unseen foe. In the background, the night sky is riddled with white stars reflected in shallow pools of water between the hills in the distance.
Schutz usually sets her paintings outside. "Lovers" captures a romantic tryst in a heavily wooded park. Two figures on a bench tightly wrap arms and legs around each other, drawing themselves as close as they possibly can while a flowering branch arches above them. Their desire is so strong that they apparently must consume each other -- they look as if they are swallowing each other's heads. Meanwhile, what looks like an arm appears on the left side of the canvas, as though someone were about to discover the amorous couple.
"Landscape offers so many abstract possibilities," Schutz says. "I have been interested in the way that forest spaces can create a fractured space." She recently learned that German romantic artists used the woods as a symbol for imagination and the unconscious. "It was a space for fantasy, projection and irrationality," she says. The wild, uncharted forest is the perfect setting for this Pied Piperish romp, in which Schutz leads her audience through her imagination with feverish brush strokes in garish colors.
Although they're conceptually engaging, the Frank pieces in this show are not Schutz's most interesting visually. "Surgery," which Hartman recently purchased for JCCC's future Nerman Contemporary Art Museum, is a creepily spectacular commentary on the meanness of little girls. Seven of them gather around what resembles an oversized Operation game board, but instead of a portly cartoon man with a red light-bulb nose lying exposed on the examination table, there's another glassy-eyed little girl. The top of her skull has been sliced cleanly off, her limbs lie across the table bent at awkward angles and her chest is an open cavity. Three of the girls lean over their specimen, picking at her with instruments in their gloved hands. The happy-colored palette -- girly pinks, comforting yellows and warm oranges -- and the checkered picnic tablecloth make for a pleasant backdrop. But they're in stark contrast to the emotionless, calculating expressions on the girls' faces.
Overall, Schutz's palette is bright and gaudy. She uses everything from black, putrid yellows and dull browns to fluorescent greens and pinks. In most of this show's paintings, Schutz is hyperconscious of details all over the canvas, drawing attention to the backgrounds rather than to the figures. Schutz pays no attention to the rule of atmospheric perspective (the greater the implied distance between an object and the viewer, the less detail should be apparent), instead covering every inch with wildly kinetic brush strokes. It's like looking at art while riding a Tilt-a-Whirl.
That's partly explained by the fact that Schutz, who loves music, always listens while painting. "For a while, I was interested in trying to get the painting to have the same sort of energy as what I was listening to," she tells the Pitch. Several of the pieces in JCCC's show are portraits of her favorite musicians, and there's a still life of instruments. "The Breeders" depicts a weird rock concert in front of a sharp-needled evergreen and a large-leafed deciduous tree. In the painting, Kelley and Kim Deal of the Breeders look like Pepto-Bismol-colored slugs with rocks for eyes and sticky brown hair. They gaze motionless out toward viewers, almost as though it's the audience on display and not them.
It's that switched-around, disconcerted feeling that makes Schutz's work so memorable.