Painting the end of the world

By GREG COOK  |  February 2, 2006

Back in September 2001, while working toward a master’s degree in fine arts at Columbia, Schutz went to meet one of her teachers. She’d gotten a copy of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, and they discussed her idea to take the book’s diagrams — like instructions on how to fight a bear — and elaborate on them in her paintings. “That was on September 10, and it really changed the next day. I had these ideas before, but . . . ”

As the Frank paintings progressed, she’d dismantle her Frank-enstein man and reassemble his parts as a morbid still life (Night in Day) or as a pathetic flesh-mud-and-stick re-creation of rockers Kim and Kelley Deal out in the woods somewhere (The Breeders). The Deal sisters and a tall painting of PJ Harvey (50 Foot Queenie), her arms like wads of gum stuck together, her legs frail sticks jammed into red stiletto heels, suggest someone stranded without her iPod in the middle of nowhere trying to soothe herself by conjuring her favorite tunes.

SURGERY: These little girls seem devoid of any sense that their play has turned to tortureThis in turn led to Schutz’s series of Self-Eater paintings, in which bug-eyed characters devour themselves. In Devourer, a woman’s panicked nailbiting has gone horribly awry and she’s gnawing off her fingers, blood dripping down her arms. In New Legs, a nude blonde has lost her legs (“she ate them”) and is molding herself replacements out of mud or (her?) shit. In Happy, a blonde’s nude torso has been turned to Swiss cheese and her long E.T. fingers bent in painful directions. Schutz sees these auto-cannibals as regenerative, devouring or sacrificing parts of themselves to build anew, to “self-improve.” But I can’t get past the eyes — they’re fey, shell-shocked. They’re happy only because they’re not feeling anything.

Schutz then began to explore collaboration. In the giant, fantastic Civil Planning, a pair of smokers loiter in the shade of a jungle edge while to the right a zombie-like Self-Eater attacks a half-built shelter and on the left someone gathers dismembered legs, arms, a brain. Limbs and skeletons (in Schutz’s iconography the building blocks of society) litter the bottom corners. On the bare hills in the distance an artist paints, and bloody naked wretches, missing arms or legs, scamper about. The smoking woman on the right is wide-eyed and freaked out, urgently jabbering to her companion, who stares down, piles up pebbles, appears to ignore her. Collaboration and communication devolve into chaos and threat.

Other paintings find the countryside menaced by roving feral gangs of corporate honchos (Men’s Retreat), red-flag-waving Republicans (Party), and elementary-school girls — a group of these pink-faced lasses surround a yellow bed strewn with the bloody limbs and viscera of what remains of another girl in the largish canvas Surgery. They stare down at her while three of them, sporting surgical gloves, pick and poke at her brains, her heart, her leg. They’re outside in the grass and the colors are sunny and friendly, but the sad, stunned expression on the face of the “patient” and the calm orderly deliberation of the “doctors” are terrifying. These little girls seem devoid of any sense that their play has turned to torture. Run away!

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