The walls of the Hepworth have been brought to life by the colourful paintings of acclaimed US artist Dana Schutz. Jon Cronshaw met her.
One of the brightest hopes for the future of American painting, Dana Schutz, has finally made it to Yorkshire from her home in Brooklyn, New York, for her first UK solo exhibition.
“I’m really excited because I’ve never shown my work over here before – it’s been amazing,” says Schutz. “The Hepworth is so gorgeous, the way it sits right on the river and just lets in all this natural light. The sky is amazing in Yorkshire – it’s just incredible. How low the clouds are, and the shifting light – it’s insane, it’s really beautiful.
“I wondered how it would work because all the rooms in the gallery are different sizes, and there are no right angles in the entire building. I didn’t see at first how the paintings would work on the walls, but it’s actually been great.”
The exhibition brings together 13 of Schutz’s large-scale paintings produced between 2010 and 2013 which all give a strange twist or an unusual composition to familiar everyday scenes – from shaving to dressing.
A new painting which dominates an entire wall depicts a familiar scene at all art schools – a life drawing class with a group of students sitting at their easels.
The scene is given a surreal spin with the inclusion of a giant octopus modelling for the students, its tentacles thrashing around and causing the type of chaos one would expect from the presence of a giant octopus in a classroom.
“It’s been really weird – some of these paintings have never been seen together,” says Schutz.
“It’s been really interesting for me to see how my technique has changed, or how themes and ideas have cropped up in different places. There are a couple of paintings in the show that I haven’t seen in a long time, so it’s been really nice to see them again.”
The pictures take their inspiration from some of the greatest painters of the 20th century, but bring their ideas up-to-date with references to popular culture and her use of bright and bold colours.
There are subtle references to paintings by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Alex Katz and David Hockney.
“I like the way that space is constructed and the way the colours work in those paintings,” says Schutz.
“I do look at a lot of paintings, and I think that the way I relate to other art is that I don’t think I’m trying to make a comment on it or anything like that – it only becomes a problem if it’s too heavy with the reference.”
Schutz started painting as a teenager growing up in Livonia, Michigan a suburb of Detroit – a city with a heritage of car manufacturing and soul music. “When I was 14 or 15 I remember thinking that art was something that I could see myself doing,” she says.
“I knew at the time that I wasn’t very good at it – but I liked it, and that was enough to at least get me started. If you like something, and you have a lot of time, you can really put a lot into it.
“I think there’s something quite romantic about art when you’re that age. When you’re in school, it doesn’t feel like a lot of people were making paintings, so it’s quite an exciting thing to be doing.
“I remember taking one of those aptitude tests that you have to take when you’re in the ninth grade in the US, and it said that I’d be a bricklayer because I liked the outdoors and could work with my hands. At the time I thought that was really depressing – but I think secretly I would have quite liked to do that.”
Dana Shutz’s exhbition is at The Hepworth, Wakefield until January 26, 2014.