Andrew Schoultz may be tempering his more extravagant theatrical impulses, but his desire for wide-angle views of the human condition remains intact. Yonder, his latest effort, shows the one-time graffiti tagger cooling his jets, but only a little. Where his prior exhibition in this space featured an elaborate set piece (Cathedral, 2018-20) festooned with his own works, the artist, operating more modestly, fills the Hosfelt Gallery with mural-sized paintings interspersed with small- to medium-sized canvases and works on paper — all to the same riveting effect.
Enter the room, and the first painting you see shows a bull rampaging through a collection of ancient amphorae. The title — We Put Our Best Foot Forward, And Hope Not To Break Things, But There Is A Necessary Amount Of Breaking That Must Happen — sounds a lot like Mark Zuckerberg’s motto (“Move fast and break things”), but for Schoultz, the meaning most likely lies closer to Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence,” the notion that war and peace, creation and destruction, prosperity and calamity are all sides of the same coin, cyclical in nature and therefore endemic to humankind.
Never content to merely reflect the zeitgeist, Schoultz seeks nothing less than an encompassing vision – a long view informed not only by Nietzsche’s ideas but also those of Jung and Marx and Native Americans. As such, most of what we see in Yonder are mythological creatures in landscapes that mirror and amplify the psychic turmoil we’re now experiencing.
“Protagonists” include an allosaurus-like beast that has long been a fixture in the artist’s oeuvre; flocks of long-tailed birds; a magisterial owl; and snakes portrayed rectilinearly with “knee” joints, looking as if they’d been designed on an Etch-a-Sketch pad. In several key paintings, such as Holy Mountain, Gentle Serpent (Window), these serpents inhabit trees overlooking paradisiacal ocean (or mountain) views backed by sunsets painted in hot colors: signs of climate disasters that await. In other, purely abstract works, i.e., those uninhabited by animals, Schoultz creates mazes of interlocking rectangles that dissolve into a “vanishing point” at the center. He renders them in flaming reds, yellows and oranges, skewing the shapes to push the thinking of Op Art innovators like Richard Anuszkiewicz into the fever zone. Flow State (2), the most retina-tingling of these, includes biomorphic shapes that merge to form a pulsating ‘X’. In keeping with his past practice, Schoultz also employs moiré patterns at varying intensity levels. That device is particularly effective in paintings like Blue Vessel and Window and Blurred Flag in which a shimmering, out-of-focus Old Glory functions as a thinly veiled critique of the nation it represents.
Overall, Yonder presents an apocalyptic view of the present and the future. However, the multivalent character of the creatures Schoultz selects to help him realize that vision argue with equal force for a more nuanced interpretation, one that doesn’t necessarily entail the planet’s demise. The operative premise here seems to be that the current malaise, however bad, will pass with help from the animal
kingdom whose members Schoultz recruits as spirit guides. Chief among them is the theropod mentioned earlier. Standing on hind legs with claws extended and teeth bared, it is a fearsome thing, particularly as it’s depicted in Sentient Beast; but in Schoultz’s world, it functions mainly as an agent of “creative destruction,” evidenced by its multiple appearances inside amphorae, the shattering of which will, presumably, instigate new beginnings.
Snakes also occupy dual roles. They can be venomous killers, but if you consider certain biological facts – their ability to sense low-frequency vibrations, locate prey with infrared radar, shed skin seasonally, survive underground and generate poisons that, in small doses, can be used medicinally – then it’s easy to see why they’ve became the theriomorphic form of so many deities as well as the symbol of the healing arts. Birds hold a similar attraction for Schoultz. One of the most commanding paintings in the exhibition, Holy Mountain Owl (Sunset), features one such a bird painted at about the size of a person and executed in the manner of a woodcut, looking down from a high perch, as if scanning the landscape for a meal. With its acute vision, hearing and 240-degree range of cranial motion, it’s an ideal vehicle for an artist seeking a lofty view of what ails us.
In a hallway off the main gallery, several works by Schoulz appear alongside those of the late William T. Wiley. It’s a conjunction that makes sense. Both artists survey human history with a gimlet eye and employ animals as alter egos, “voices” for their own internal debates. Whether Schoultz will eventually equal Wiley as a social and political critic — and a conjugator of visual riddles — remains to be seen. For now, it’s enough to behold the skill and energy he pours into registering the temperature of current events.
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Andrew Schoultz: “Yonder” @ Hosfelt Gallery through August 6, 2022.
About the author: David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.