Stephen Schultz

February 26th, 2013


Stephen Schultz’s personal and artistic roots stretch well beyond the contemporary era.  His deep engagement with the history of Western art has caused him to study the spectrum of that art and to spend extended periods of time in Europe.  For over a decade he has been living and painting in North Idaho.  His view is global and timeless yet grounded in the quest of the individual for a larger understanding of our existence and its possible relevance to history.



The idiom of Stephan Schultz’s painting belongs to the European academic tradition going back to the Renaissance:  foreshortened arms, raised hands, difficult poses, elaborate drapery, complex and dramatic compositions.  With his remarkable technique, Schultz is demonstrating his right to our attention, as Max Beckmann did in his self-portrait; when he won the Prix de Rome, painting his own hand upraised, its back turned towards us.  As in Mannerist painting, Schultz’s figures often exchange mysterious glances, meaningful them but mysterious to us.

Schultz’s subject matter is often traditional, too., drawn from Greek mythology (“Siren”) and especially from the Bible (“Expulsion,” “Agape,” “Secret,” and “Ascension”).  But what Schultz says with this technical idiom and allusive subject matter is absolutely of our own moment, in the exact sense of this word.  In this moment, we are more concerned with questions than with answers.  Who are we?  Where do we come from?  Into what world are we passing?  The theatricality of Schultz’s painting creates the mysterious ambience in which these questions arise.  Everywhere there are curtains, ladders, and veils, scenes of transition to something wholly unexpected.  Even an angel’s wing is turned into a veil, in “Expulsion.”  The painting from which this exhibition takes its title, “LIMINAL NAVIGATION ,” shows a theatrical curtain, with one, clothed figure on a ladder raising another figure, which is reclining and nude.  This scene appears to take place behind the curtain, as if, in a moment, its figures will be revealed on stage to an audience that is completely unknown.  This audience belongs to the other world into which we are passing.

Usually; in the theatre, we take as mysterious that which is to be revealed to the audience.  But in Schultz’s paintings this relation is reversed:  it is the as-yet unrevealed audience that is mysterious to us, for it represents the future world into which, at every moment, we feel we are about to pass.  The same effect of immanent transition is achieved by the curtain, in “Juggling Rings”, by the interrogative gesture of the naked figure, in “The Yellow Chair,” by the phylactery (if that is what it is) and raised sheet, in “Secret,” by the stairway, in “Rome,” by the screen with its bunraku-like, raven shadows in “Restoration,” by the ladder and carnival mask in “Ascension,” by the artist’s hand in “Self Portrait,” above all by the mysterious self-reflection in the wall into which the seated figure peers, in “Siren.”

Who are we? Is a question we commonly seek to answer by referring to the past:  where do we come from?  But for Schultz, that past is made up of gestures—gestures symbolized by the academic tradition in painting—which are meaningless to us.  They seem to exist in no world whatever, for it is precisely a world that gives meaning to the gestures made in it.  Similarly, the present moment in each of Schultz’s paintings seems to exist in time but not in the space of any intelligible world.  A remarkable exception to this is “Agape.”  (The title is a Greek word that means “charity,” or “heavenly love,” as distinguished from a different kind of love we call “eros.”)  In “Agape” we are given the position of an audience viewing a theatrical scene unfolding in space.  It is as if we have at last entered a world that opens into  space, instead of another narrow moment in time.  The spatiality is accentuated by the precipice over which the reclining figure reaches, while the others, looking into the precipice themselves, are alarmed.  It is as if we have at last entered a world in space but are as incapable of understanding its rules as the figures are even of noticing the large, mysterious object on the right which vaguely resembles bound sheaves.

Even so, we feel as if each of these paintings is about to pass into a real world for the first time.  For even in “Agape” the figures are on the precipice of another world.  In such a world, pictorial figures will be transformed into actors whose gestures will mean something at last.  With remarkable artistic self-discipline, Stephan Schultz keeps us in this moment of transition, on the threshold, before we enter a world.  Every painting is a LIMINAL NAVIGATION .

Gordon Teskey