- Media category
- Materials used
- oil on canvas
- 213.4 x 203.2 x 4.0 cm
- Signature & date
Signed and dated u.l. verso, black fibre-tipped pen "Dana Schutz/ 2015".
- Purchased with funds provided by the 2015 USA Foundation Tour and the Mollie and Jim Gowing Bequest Fund
- 19th & 20th c European art
- Accession number
- © Dana Schutz
- Artist information
Works in the collection
For fifteen years Dana Schutz has been a prominent and often acclaimed American painter, but the response to her September 2015 exhibition at Petzel Gallery testified to a new sense of critical mass around her art. Appraising the exhibition, titled 'Fight in an elevator', the New Yorker called Schutz “one of the most exciting painters working in New York”, Jerry Saltz of New York magazine described her as “among the liveliest American painters to emerge in this country”, and the New York Times wrote that her “imagination has given rise to some of the most memorably skewed canvases of the past 15 years”.
In an international context where abstract painting, much of it by male artists, has recently dominated both the art market and critical discussion, Schutz stands out as a practitioner of what Robert Storr, in reference to two of Schutz’s predecessors Susan Rothenberg and Elizabeth Murray, called “full-tilt painting” – a woman artist making ambitious, exploratory, powerfully idiosyncratic and unapologetically figurative paintings.
One of the first works produced by Schutz following 'Fight in an elevator', 'Breastfeeding' addresses, as did many in that exhibition, her experience as a new mother. Art history of course offers many devotional Christian images of mothers and children, but Schutz’s painting is extraordinary for its evocation of the visceral dimension of motherhood – not just how it looks but how it feels to sustain a body that was recently inside your own.
Themes of feeding, sustenance and grotesque appetite have long been present in Schutz’s work, notably in her portraits from the mid-2000s of monstrous yet oddly affecting ‘self-eaters’. In Schutz’s ‘motherhood’ paintings, this strain of bizarre physical comedy comes to life again but in newly personal scenarios. Here mother and child form a bright-pink tangle of limbs and gazes and gestures. They fill each other’s consciousness, they fill the frame; it seems the painting might not contain them. Bit by bit we make sense of what it is we are looking at: the rocking chair they sit in; his hand pulling her hair; his other limbs flailing; her big eye above his upside-down one. But Schutz’s sliding, eloquent and always varied brushwork keeps the identity of each element in flux, and what comes through above all is a sense of grappling physical exertion and connection, as the child draws the mother to him and the mother, all elbows, knees and toes, wrestles to hold the child in place.
Part of the wit and pleasure of this scene is that the struggle is also art historical, as Schutz elbows open some space for her own experience within a grand painterly tradition. To cite one connection near at hand, the painting offers an uncanny echo of the Gallery’s own Picasso 'Nude in a rocking chair' from 1956, except that the fetish-like odalisque in the chair has now been replaced by a mother and child. Schutz was also thinking of Balthus’s perverse and infamous 'The guitar lesson' of 1934, where a young woman lies across the lap of an older one whose breast she has revealed. Meanwhile, with that large Cyclopean eye and those marvellously awkward limbs, Schutz is paying deep homage to one of her most important American predecessors: the maverick imagist Philip Guston.
Shown in 4 exhibitions
Tightrope walk: painted images after Abstraction, White Cube, London, 25 Nov 2015–24 Jan 2016
Something living, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Aug 2017–11 Feb 2018
Here we are, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Aug 2019–13 Oct 2019
Some mysterious process, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 01 Jun 2020–13 Sep 2020