Flirting with Limits: Artist Dana Schutz

KatherineAmerican Paintings, Artist Spotlight, Contemporary / Modern Art1 Comment

Artist Dana Schutz

When viewing a piece of art, where does the painting end? There is an unacknowledged boundary between the work and those outside the work – both viewer and artist. Dana Schutz is a painter that breaks down that barrier. From the types of characters to the topics she chooses to base her work upon, Schutz gleefully flirts with limits. Her macabre sense of humor provides for a new insight in modern living.

Born in Livonia, Michigan in 1976, Schutz began to seriously paint at age 15. She sold her first painting to her flute teacher when she was 16. Pursuing her passion, she went on to receive a BFA degree at the Cleveland Institute of Art and later an MFA from Columbia in 2002. In that same year, Schutz captured the attention of the art world with her series of paintings featuring Frank – the last man on earth modeling for the last artist on earth.

“Frank from Observation” was an exploration of the relationship between artist and subject. In this series, Frank is an unwilling subject and often has a look of bewilderment in his eyes, as if he is a Wildman or a grown feral child appalled at being studied through art. His prominent brow ridge reinforces this image of a primitive or incomplete man. The artist is an ambiguous character in this series. The connection and fascination with Frank is left to the viewer.

Continuing her absurdist theme, Schutz kept coming up with new unusual subjects and explored hypothetical questions.  The series after “Frank from Observation” asked what is the extreme of a self-absorbed culture? In 2003, Schutz gave her answer with “Self Eaters and the People who Love Them.” In “Self Eaters,” Schutz envisioned a clan of auto-cannibals. They have no need to go out and seek out sustenance – they can devour themselves.  Harkening to images of the Ouroboros or Frankenstein’s monster, Self Eaters are ultra narcissists who are liberated from all constraints and taboos. In the world of the Self Eaters, not only can a man twist and wrap his mouth around his own head, but it is a point of pride to do so. His eyes shine with childlike delight because he has reached an auto-cannibal nirvana.

In other shows, she would go on to explore what would happen if subjects were torn out of the painting, what is outside the realm of paintings, and other such topics that provoke not only the fourth wall, but the sensibilities of the viewer. Dana Schutz revels in the awkward. People countered as they sneeze, mucus flying out in cringing detail. Faces presented as both disgusting and loving.

All these works are characters in their own right, offering to tell a story like no other to the viewer. This is the essence of a Dana Schutz work – to pick at comfort levels with a mix of excited naiveté and jaded criticism.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.


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