Critics’ Picks

Dana Schutz, Eyelashes, 2010, ink and conte crayon on paper, 38 x 50”.


Dana Schutz

Atlanta Contemporary
535 Means Street NW
January 7–March 20

Dana Schutz has blazed to fame with her paintings built from thick applications of brightly hued paint on canvas. So what happens when she takes away the impasto of oils? What happens when she removes color from her work?

This exhibition of her drawings and prints reveals that something is clearly lost. The four prints in the show, all polychromatic, have no soul. They are flat and lifeless, qualities particularly evident in the woodblock Poisoned Man, 2005, as compared with her 2006 canvas of the same name. The early monochromatic drawings such as Untitled, 2005, also feel like uncomfortable stepchildren of her paintings: In these works, Schutz substitutes areas of color for stark outlines and thick washes using a combination of charcoal, ink, and gouache.

Yet the exhibition also contains three large drawings, all created for this exhibition from a combination of ink, gouache, and conté crayon, that are undoubtedly the finest works on paper I have seen in ages. Instead of drawing as she would paint—translating areas of color into shades of washes—Schutz here seems to embrace her materials’ differences, varying brush size and pressure, amount of pigment, and direction of the brushstroke itself.

These drawings share the best of the raw emotion and tension in her paintings. Without the distractions of her bold color and texture, it is also easier to see the complex structure of her compositions. In works such as Eyelashes, Wood Chipper 1, and Swim, Smoke, Cry, all 2010, Schutz’s figures execute multiple actions simultaneously, often combining activities that would be physically impossible. Even her smaller drawings from 2010, each of which focuses on a single gesture, have more confidence than earlier works of the same size. Though the show is uneven, it is well worth seeing for these works alone.