Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Dana Schutz Talks Process & Approach to Artworks

"The thing that is so great about fiction is... you can reorganize the hierarchies of the world within it."

Young artist Dana Schutz shared that when she visited the Denver Art Museum in November for the opening of Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels. We've also learned about questions she asks before painting scenes that literally can't physically occur and which artwork portrays "the worst thing" she could imagine.

Dana Schutz, The Autopsy of Michael Jackson, 2005. Oil on canvas; 60 x 108 in. Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan. © Dana Schutz. Courtesy of the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York.

The exhibition closes January 13. More insights she shared about her process and how she approached some particular artworks:

  • "I didn't know what to do with color" until her work on the Last Man on Earth series.
  • “I can't paint that. I'm not going to paint that,” about How we would give birth, on view here. Schutz, who does not have children, said she thought while looking at a list of situations she could paint: "My husband said, ‘You should paint it. You should paint it.’" She determined she "had to make an escape route in the painting not only for me" but for the viewer and her subject. The painting within the painting is that escape route.
  • "It feels very physical when you're doing it" about painting vertical artworks.
  • About The Autopsy of Michael Jackson, on view here: Schutz was "very uncomfortable" making the painting. She said she “moved to something else and then came back to it." She finished it in 2005. Jackson died in 2009. This artwork is in the collection of Vicki and Kent Logan, who have donated about 200 other artworks to the DAM.
  • About her Verb series paintings, including Swimming, Smoking, Crying: "I was interested in verbs because I think they are difficult to depict. … They are poetic but also cancel each other out potentially."
  • About Face Eater: "I started making this painting while I was on the phone of people eating themselves. She said she initially thought it was “too angst-y, bad therapy."
  • About her I'm Into Shooting in Natural Environments: “I Googled ‘I'm into.’ I liked it because it's sort of a chilled out phrase." She said she found search results that were “very specific—freaky."
  • She created the ink and gouache drawing Swim, Smoke, Cry #2 in 2010 after finishing the similar Swimming, Smoking, Crying oil painting in 2009.

Hear and learn more about Schutz's process when you visit the gallery and use the free DAM_SCOUT smartphone app.

Dana Schutz, Swimming, Smoking, Crying, 2009. Oil on canvas; 45 x 48 in. Collection Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas, Gift of Marti and Tony Oppenheimer and the Oppenheimer Brothers Foundation. © Dana Schutz. Image courtesy of the artist and Zach Feuer, New York.

 

Dana Schutz, Swimming, Smoking, Crying, 2009. Oil on canvas; 45 x 48 in. Collection Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas, Gift of Marti and Tony Oppenheimer and the Oppenheimer Brothers Foundation. © Dana Schutz. Image courtesy of the artist and Zach Feuer, New York.  

Image credit: Dana Schutz speaks in front of one of her artworks at the Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels on November 8. Dana Schutz, Her Arms, 2003. Oil on canvas. 98 x 66 in. Collection of David Teiger. Courtesy of the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York.

Fairlight Baer-Gutierrez is the digital communications manager in the communications department at the Denver Art Museum. Fairlight has been at the DAM since 2011 and she is always game to answer, entice, and inform visitors on Facebook and Twitter. Her favorite artwork that has been on view here is La Famille du Saltimbanque: L'Enfant Blesse by Gustave Dore, on level six of the North Building.