Studio: Dana Schutz | David Zwirner

Over the last two decades, Dana Schutz has become known for complex canvases that convey emotions and psychological states and reveal the complications, tensions, and ambiguities of contemporary life.

This online presentation debuts five new paintings, also on view at Frieze New York, and brings you inside the artist’s studio process. Conceived together, these large-scale canvases depict various figures navigating post-calamitous situations and expand on Schutz’s singular, wholly inventive approach to both subject matter and painting.

Schutz creates her paintings through a combination of preparation and intuition. Using color as ground, and working wet-on-wet with oils, she develops her compositions in an evolving, responsive process, actively building up their surfaces.  

The Arts, 2021

A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled The Arts, dated 2021.

 

 

A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled The Arts, dated 2021.
A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled The Arts, dated 2021.
An oil painting on canvas by Dana Schutz titled The Arts, dated 2021.

Dana Schutz

The Arts, 2021
Oil on canvas
93 x 120 inches (236.2 x 304.8 cm)

In The Arts, one of the five new canvases to debut here, a group of figures clamors in a futile effort to ascend a hill. One tries to light the way with a lantern, but instead casts a light downwards on a cockroach on the skull of a skeleton.

A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled The Arts, dated 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Detail view of The Arts in Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Detail view of The Arts in Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

The other figures likewise engage in seemingly misguided tasks: an artist shown at the rear smells a flower and leans back on a palette, gazing up at a faint, anemic sun. The characters’ heads and upper bodies have an upright and high-minded appearance, but their lower halves are utterly debased.

This satirical quality of The Arts reflects Schutz’s interest in the social caricature found in the work of artists such as George Grosz and Otto Dix.

A photo of Dana Schutz in her studio, dated 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Dana Schutz delineates the composition of a new painting, Baggage, in her studio. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Dana Schutz delineates the composition of a new painting, Baggage, in her studio. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Sea Group, 2021

A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled Sea Group, dated 2021.
A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled Sea Group, dated 2021.
A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled Sea Group, dated 2021.
An oil painting on canvas by Dana Schutz, titled Sea Group, titled 2021.

Dana Schutz

Sea Group, 2021
Oil on canvas
94 x 94 1/2 inches (238.8 x 240 cm)

Sea Group depicts a huddle of figures standing on what appears to be an island made up of discarded jawbones and crutches. Intertwined like a nest or paint on a palette, the figures coalesce into an image made up of many connected parts.

A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled Sea Group, dated 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Detail view of Sea Group in Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Detail view of Sea Group in Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Baggage, 2021

A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled Baggage, dated 2021.
A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled Baggage, dated 2021.
An oil painting on canvas by Dana Schutz, titled Baggage, dated 2021.

Dana Schutz

Baggage, 2021
Oil on canvas
88 x 88 3/8 inches (223.5 x 224.5 cm)

Baggage presents a solitary figure who looks like a professional on his way from one job to the next. The jumble of bodies and masklike faces recall the allegorical, carnivalesque scenes of James Ensor. 

A painting by James Ensor, titled The Intrigue, dated 1890.

James Ensor, The Intrigue, 1890 (detail). Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp. Photo by Hugo Maertens 

James Ensor, The Intrigue, 1890 (detail). Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp. Photo by Hugo Maertens 

Dana Schutz in her studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Dana Schutz in her studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt

Dana Schutz in her studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt

Schutz works quickly and fluently, building up the rich, luminous surfaces of her canvases, sometimes with a thick impasto that gives her work depth and vibrancy.

Materials in Dana Schutz's studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Painting palette in Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Painting palette in Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Dana Schutz's studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

The Meeting, 2021

A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titledThe Meeting, dated 2021.
A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titledThe Meeting, dated 2021.
A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titledThe Meeting, dated 2021.
A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titledThe Meeting, dated 2021.
An oil painting on canvas by Dana Schutz, titled Title to be confirmed (working titles are The Acquaintance, or The Meeting), dated 2021.

Dana Schutz

The Meeting, 2021
Oil on canvas
88 1/4 x 84 inches (224.2 x 213.4 cm)

The Meeting features two figures in profile, recalling Assyrian wall reliefs or Egyptian hieroglyphs, who appear to be meeting at the end of the world and suspended in time. The sculptural quality of the figures stands in contrast to the lightness of the clouds and the chaos that surrounds them. Oblivious or resigned to their chaotic circumstances, the two nevertheless appear to recognize each other as partners or equals.

A photo of books in Dana Schutz' studio. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

An open monograph displays Pablo Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922), 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

An open monograph displays Pablo Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922), 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Books in Dana Schutz's studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Stacks of books in Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Stacks of books in Dana Schutz’s studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt 

Schutz draws from a tremendous visual knowledge of the history of painting that she freely synthesizes into her own unique painterly language. Among the influences seen in these works are the cloudlike corporeality of Robert Colescott’s figures, the built-up daubs of color of Oskar Kokoschka’s expressionist portraits, and other earlier references, including Giotto and Paolo Uccello.

The Ventriloquist, 2021

A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled The Ventriloquist, dated 2021.
A detail from a painting by Dana Schutz, titled The Ventriloquist, dated 2021.
An oil painting on canvas by Dana Schutz, titled The Ventriloquist, 2021.

Dana Schutz

The Ventriloquist, 2021
Oil on canvas
88 x 75 inches (223.5 x 190.5 cm)

The Ventriloquist features a ventriloquist, sinister and calm, holding a puppet, screaming mutely and surrounded by fire—dualities held in tension in the composition.

In the face of the puppet, Schutz’s synthesis of Kokoschka can be seen: the daubs of color and masses of paint give the figure a painterly plasticity.

 
A detail from a painting by Oskar Kokoschka, titled Girl with Doll, dated circa. 1921.

Oskar Kokoschka, Girl with Doll, c. 1921. Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo © Detroit Institute of Arts/Bridgeman Images 

Oskar Kokoschka, Girl with Doll, c. 1921. Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo © Detroit Institute of Arts/Bridgeman Images 

Dana Schutz in her studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt.

Dana Schutz in her studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt

Dana Schutz in her studio, 2021. Photo by Jason Schmidt

You can see these paintings in person at Frieze New York, May 5–9, 2021.

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