Art Review Archives:
Gregory Schulte: Paintings
July 18 - August 30, 2003
From an exploration of morphism human and vegetal to a unique take on the vanitas, Gregory Schulte intrigues with his contemporary usage of the traditions of the still life. These works exhibit an endless fascination with boundaries and borders in all their permutations: human and animal, fragile and solid, smooth and rugous, juicy-ripe and dessicatedly dry. Working in oil, or in a tactile commingling of oil over graphite, Schulte draws on the still life's capacity for symbology, creating works that are suggestive, mysterious puzzles for the eye and the seeking mind.
On the one hand, fragility, brittleness, dryness, and in the case of the wasp's nest, danger: even the image of the empty, papery Nautilus carries with it a fear of the smooth-bodied insects and their paralyzing sting. On the other, wetness, fleshiness, the transitory, solid soundness of ripe pears and human flesh. Wasp's nests and eggshells reappear throughout this exhibition, standing in as emptiness, as exoskeletons, while pears both whole and halved, and human flesh, seem by comparison to be sturdier, yet in a transitional state tending ultimately toward decay. In Borderline (oil and graphite on paper: 21"x28": 2002), Schulte balances a multitude of such textural and symbolic contrasts, flesh, metal, eggshells touching -- the beginning and end, the membrane of being, molecules thick, where such areas must join. The two feet hearken to the phrase 'to toe the line,' and the picture seems to hold an implicit morality: the one pair of feet obedient, its life's reward a balance of pear and wasp's nest; the other pair sprawling past the boundary into a field of broken eggshells: whether lost endeavor, hatched plans, or empty nest.
Drawing on association-by-juxtaposition, Schulte's works in this exhibition often introduce a consciousness of dreamlike connection into the feel for the dryness or fragility of the individual items. Fragile Field of Chance #2 (oil on panel: 34"x26": 2001) is silent with a hush of mystery and significance. In this work, drawn in a more line-based, illustrative style, the wasp's nest dominates the upper half of the image, still and ominous on its bare branch, while a scattering of fragile objects litter the foreground. They are all items past their use: empty eggshells, dried leaves, the withered core of an apple or pear. With the addition of the empty, open-doored birdcage and the dice, this work suggests that the 'chances' of the title are chances lost, hopes flown. A human presence lingers in the toes intruding from the right, and the assemblage in its brooding landscape has, when one realizes it, the feel of a vanitas, the traditional imagery of life's fleetingness and folly.
After the Harvest (oil and graphite on paper: 54"x45": 2002) presents an even more enigmatic image, strangely powerful in its simplicity. The object sags, suggestive of warm honeycomb or wet liver, or a human shape with the head downward, a heavily suspended body bag. Its 'sap' runs down the cloth-covered wall, only some of it reaching the receptacle suspended below. Anonymous in its white wrapping it is a song of mortality or of ritual sacrifice. The artist's working method here brings an uncanny realism to the bucket and suspended object, painted in oil against the textured graphite rendering of the 'cloth.' The artist's penchant for equilibrium is seen in the balance of the angled tautness of string and rope, the contrasts between the heavy, hanging object and the open, waiting cavity of the bucket.
In Equilibrium (oil on panels (hinged): 24"x49": 2000), human and gourd play off against one another: both solid and wet, both rounded, the gourd's two-globed shape suggesting a primitive shaping of human form; yet the humans are animal life, active, motile, while the gourd is inhuman, vegetal, sessile. The humans themselves form a balanced equation: male and female, Adam and Eve, the cropping of the image focusing attention on the variants in sexual morphism of hair, shoulders, hips. It is a curiously satisfying quotation of curves and textures, human, vegetable, and the balance of likenesses between them. Deconstructing Boundaries (oil on panel: 30"x36": 1999) presents a flatter, more conceptual picture space. An array of halved Bosc and Bartlett pears are scattered within two fields, green and gold, of this crisply divided work. The central demarcations form a sectioned triangle recalling the 'eye in the pyramid' on the U.S. one dollar bill: the 'all-seeing eye,' a Masonic symbol whose motto, Annuit Coeptis translates roughly as 'He has given approval to our undertaking.' A pair of walking feet suggest movement: a stroll among possibilities, whether the aridity of the dry eggshells on a grey ground, or the opulent richness of the pears in their gold and green areas. The variances in color and texture highlight the sharp definition of the six zones -- again, boundaries, borders, and the endless acrobatics of contrast among them.
Still life invests everyday objects with significance. At times it invites, simply, a rich appreciation of curves and textures, objects and the balance of voids between them. As well, in the 17th and later centuries, the juxtapositions were an often Christian symbolism, an exploration of the interplay of good and evil. Schulte draws on both traditions, infusing symbology with a sensibility that supplants good and evil with its contemporary counterpart, a sense of enigma, mystery, strange psychological connections. Schulte's works seem assembled partly by choice, and partly by an unconscious reckoning. Gregory Schulte: Paintings presents an exhibition of eighteen oils both varied and intriguing.
--Katherine Rook Lieber
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