A fearless practitioner of unbridled abstraction with a career dating to the 1960s, Cornelia Shultz, now 79, continues to amaze by teasing paint into the most improbable contortions. The frothy surfaces of her sculptural paintings bring to mind volcanic landscapes and disparate geological epochs — randomly sampled and fluidly conjoined. The feel is of wild abandon. But the effect, fashioned from dense swatches of heavily worked oil paint, rests on the artist’s mastery of the textures and shapes that can be coaxed from it. It’s a kind of virtuosity that today is in short supply, devalued by those who think only ideas matter. Schulz’s retro modernist idea is that paint is a vital, life-affirming force, and that the deft manipulation of it can be a worthy end unto itself. She goes at it full-throttle.
Had these multi-part canvas sculptures appeared in the 1970s, they might have been hailed for challenging the hegemony of two-dimensional painting. Conversely, they could have been dismissed as too flamboyant, for violating Clement Greenberg’s call for painting to be flat. In today’s anything-goes environment such edicts seem quaint. In their absence we can more fully appreciate Shultz’s works for what they are: beautiful grotesques with apocalyptic overtones, fascinating for their near-comic excesses.