Galerie Fatiha Selam » Stephen Schultz

Stephen Schultz


« Triple entendre »

Opening : Saturday 3 september  4 – 8pm
Exhibition : 3 september  – 23 october 2016


Some random thoughts about the visual work of Stephen Schultz, turning the large Wheel of Time, rotating the picture full circle, emptying the vessel, lifting the veil, and of course finally connecting the end to its beginning…

It was in 1976 at Stanford University when Schultz pinned to his studio wall three smaller drawings, all acrylic and oil stick and paint. These three works, each about one-foot square, were direct drawings about “things” in his world and also a quiet statement about their “abstracted” line, form, and shape.

I was immediately stunned by the essential nature of Schultz’s use of mixed media, and now, as I recall them in my mind’s eye, I was pulled toward his studio wall by the complexity of these small, compacted pictures. I needed to get closer to them to understand “what” they represented, why they existed, how they were affecting me.

Simply stated, they were ordinary chairs; yet he was an extraordinary painter.

That moment, looking at Stephen’s “objects” almost forty years ago, is still with me. It is still challenging me and still perplexing me. It is similar to becoming familiar and intimate with the strange and obscure. Stephen has always, like any authentic visual artist, been vulnerable to the dual nature of both the real and the imagined.
His newer work, not unlike those early “chairs,” is evidence of the true connection between intuition and formalism. Both require concentration; both ask for choice.
Recent art history, since 1950, has shown us paintings filled with this chase for that marriage between representation and non-objectivity: Brice Marden, Willem de Kooning, Sol LeWitt, Al Held, Rosenquist and Rauschenberg, and even Matisse’s gouache and crayon collage. Other art could be possible sources for Schultz’s ideas in a universe of visible and invisible things; yet, Stephen is much more apocalyptic.
So, it’s the evocative suggestion and the factual structure, simultaneously made to intermingle. Schultz’s black and white surfaces offer lean, linear marks, floating and submerging unintended, and quite surprising, “inventions.” Still, with a purpose. It is probably inevitable that Cezanne’s aesthetic idea of geometric reduction would lead us to Stephen’s “abstract” art, where the identifiable – object or subject – be it figure, landscape, or still life – would no longer be “composing” the narrative picture plane. In truth, more than a century ago, very few “realistic” artists ventured too far from perspectival space; and writers of art critical theory recorded somewhat less than an enthusiastic embrace of archetypical and optical “disturbances” by painters!
Yet memory of real form traces Stephen’s visceral world; all searching for efficacy of color comes from within his eye. All are deliberate acts. And restless subconscious choices also. Repeating those earliest “chairs” as the open seating of his younger imagination, this fresher work builds an open-ended and emptied-out space to be filled and populated by that connection to another viewer. Another tale.

And it was a jazz musician who phrased it best, when writing about artistic “seeing,” and his own vision, those improvisation principles where Chance is always present:

”…aware of a striving, a yearning, the making of many impossible attempts at a kind of transmutation – a searching for a formula for the magical conjuring of the unknowable. Many times the end seems just within reach, only to fly to pieces before me as I reach for it…very close to the alchemists of old; and, like them, I have in the end reached some enlightenment in the realization that my work entails a kind of symbolic self-involvement in the very processes of life itself.” (Alan Davie, 1958)

That is an extraordinary statement of intention…simple, powerful, lean, full, risky, reluctant, necessary, truthful – all at the same time…it’s Schultz’s impetuosity, too.

It is the world of eruption and equilibrium.
Is it an abstract image, or a self-sufficient object that is neither figurative nor abstract?
Is it an event rather than a picture?
Is it an inscribed, written or marked surface?
Is it more easily edited and erased than answered?
Is it a poem?

Stephen Schultz sits quietly now in its midst,
somewhere in Paris, reconfiguring, discerning, eliminating, scribbling, delineating.

It is what was once solemnly called “going abstract…”
Artists themselves began to demolish the categories,
lessening the barrier between figuration and abstraction.
And now that itself is the newest subject.
Any historical examination of this collected work by Schultz leads one back to the common origins of magical thinking, rituals, and even the mystical. We ask what sort of communication, if any, the arts might effectively deliver. Because, seriously, truly it must deliver…someday, somehow.
It must stay afloat! Tossing boats in a deepening Sea.
We are still saying the same things; there rests that much needed Twice Told Tale:

Degas “complained” to the poet Stephane Mallarmé that, though he had plenty of ideas for the sonnets he wished to write, Degas found them painfully difficult to produce.
Mallarmé replied: “Degas, you don’t make sonnets with ideas. You make them with words.”
Degas told and retold this story with evident pleasure, cherishing the implication that, similarly, paintings are made of more rudimentary “stuff” than famous subjects and valued styles. And, on top of that, a generation, younger and wilder than Degas, followed him off that “abstract edge,” quoted in a most memorable firmness, saying: “Remember that a picture – before being a battle horse, a nude woman or some anecdote – is always essentially a flat surface covered with color in a certain order.”
Finally, and lastly, in the advance of it all, Stephen Schultz remains a quizzical, sure, and persistent visual artist who remains awake and attentive to an image’s vitality.
In 1910, Paul Klee reminded everyone of us, as Schultz echoes here clearly with mixed materials and media over these past decades, in his relentless work beyond
those chairs, “there is a truly revolutionary discovery to be made,” and that is to know that “more important than nature, and nature study, is one’s attitude to the content of one’s paint-box!”

Richard Shaffer
Felton, California
December 2014