Thursday, 29 January 2009

Dana Schultz
Royal Academy, London
10th October 2006

Face Eater, 2004
Oil on Canvas 46 x 58 cm

Went to the USA Today exhibition of works from Saatchi’s collection at the Royal Academy. One of the highlights for me was going to be seeing Dana Schultz’s paintings for the first time. However, I have to admit to being disappointed, I think they actually look better in reproduction than in reality!

The best of those shown was Face Eater, a truly gruesome piece of self-cannibalism which like all her work is from her imagination, not a photographic source. It is from a series she did of Self-Eaters between 2003 and 2004. The subjects are member of an imaginary species of cannibals, able to consume their own bodies and regenerate themselves endlessly. It is possible to see the idea as analogous with painting itself, eating up past imagery and making something new from the pieces.

The format is that of a classic portrait, with the head central and close, but not touching the edges of the canvas. The eyes are looking at the viewer just before they are devoured by the gaping mouth. The background is dark and this saturnine gloom provides a strong contrast with the flesh tones and lime green shirt. Some blobs of blood and flesh drip from the maw as the tongue lolls out. Flesh tones not as lurid as some of her work, her usual taste is for hot purples and pinks.

The strong blocky brushstrokes remind me of the ‘facets’ and planes of colour in the work of Paul Cézanne, but I don’t think the cubist references are the point. I think her influences are closer to Georg Grosz and Otto Dix in this series, and perhaps Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse in her earlier series on Frank (the last man on Earth).

Her paint is surprisingly thick, opaque and built up in relief, enhancing direction and weight. The edges are blended on the canvas by painting adjacent strokes wet next to wet.

It is interesting that although her ideas are deinitely melancholic, the images themselves don't seem to reinforce this, leaning more towards the tropes of horror movies than those of melancholia. In fact, the most disconcerting aspect of her work (apart from the subjects) is the often confusing perspective and the way the surface flips between 2d and 3d.

©blackdog 2009

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