Portraits by Dana Schutz

Dana Schutz expresses the modern human condition with characteristic surrealism and clarity.

We are living in a time when scenarios previously relegated to the realm of science fiction seem to be real. In the Anthropocene, mass extinction and apocalypse appear entirely possible, if not inevitable. In the digital age, living in simulated worlds or subjugated to the will of machines feels close at hand. For the last 15 years, Dana Schutz has been making paintings for the post-human condition. Equal parts humorous and surreal, her works are visceral and fanciful combinations of abstraction and figuration. Schutz has conjured imaginary stories, hypothetical situations, and impossible physical feats. She imagined what the last man on earth would be like and what he would do. She painted self-eaters, evoking the midcentury Brazilian Antropofagia movement’s leading female painter, Tarsila do Amaral. Schutz made paintings featuring human functions of the body giving birth, sneezing, and having orgies. The viscosities of bodily fluids were underscored by her thick application of paint and tactile brushwork. She painted dissections and beheadings. She created hybrid figures— birds stuck in human throats, figures made of oversize teeth, abject and thick fleshy body parts painted with effervescent color—as if to underscore the inhumanity of it all. She also pictured the banal things that only humans do: showering, putting on undergarments, eating in bed, and fighting in elevators.

After years of drawing directly onto the canvas, Schutz returned to making drawings for drawing’s sake in 2010. These portraits are some of the first she made after this shift. Like many of her protagonists, these sitters are invented. After years of lush color, the focus here is the expressive power of black marks on the white page. They reveal an artist who is, at heart, a drawer. An artist whose draftsmanship has been upstaged by her vibrant color palette and adept brushwork, her work reveals perhaps what makes us most human of all: the desire to communicate and express ourselves through primal marks on the page.

Eva Respini comments upon Dana Schutz’s powerfully understated portfolio for Document’s Spring/Summer 2017 issue.