I love the coffee at Circa Celeste in downtown Racine and am always happy to see the artwork on display in its tiny restaurant dining room. This month, and only for another week, paintings by Racine artist Phil Schultz are on view. Having seen Schultz’s work at Remington May Gallery, I recognized the artist’s playful and unorthodox approach in these painting right away.
Schultz’s paintings remind me of Wassily Kandisky, the expressionist painter and art theorist who was one of the first to assert that colors and shapes correspond with human emotion, that forms could speak directly to our souls. Oddly, Kandinsky’s abstractions never make me feel much, but Schultz’s paintings do.
Schultz trowels on a thick cream-colored ground of oil paint as if it were icing on a cake. With a controlled palette of complementary secondary and tertiary colors he lays out a series of stylized pictographs that seem both to float freely on the ground and to be embedded in it, like pigment soaked into plaster.
Schultz’s personal hieroglyphs are such a pleasure to look at that with a bit of time his squiggly lines and color shapes start to tell the viewer stories. In one painting (above) a black zigzag line shaded on one side with yellow and on the other with green suggests a hill or mountain. A double crescent with lavender shading suggests the silhouette of a cloud or a bird in flight. A dotted line topped with a flower form gets me thinking about picking flowers. I think I see the green and yellow cars of a train moving along its track in this painting and hear the sound of a whistle blast in the blue triangular blob that is coming out of the top of the yellow “car.”
As much as I enjoy the paintings, Schultz’s frames make an even bigger impression. Celebrating the most base cast off materials he lovingly staples, glues and nails faded old plastic mini-blinds, bits of industrial carpet, and small squares of black rubber inner tube into elaborate frames for his sunny paintings.
The elaborate do-it-yourself frames made of reused materials are entirely unexpected for understated expressionist painting of this kind, but Schultz’s quirky and completely authentic combination works wonderfully here. Each painting includes an”X” in the lower right corner, which, according to the artist, stands for “Johannes Ecks” his ”trade name and mark.” Somehow this bouncy little calligraphic “X” fits perfectly into the language of the paintings, and dances happily among the other friendly figures in the pictorial space.
What do you see in the painting below?