Robert Schultz’s show, New Drawings, on display at Koplin del Rio, in Culver City, until June 21, is, at first glance, a collection of technically dazzling graphite drawings, lithographs and silverpoint etchings of nude men and women in a variety of poses. However, upon digging deeper and looking closer, New Drawings becomes a study of concealment, shame, and discomfort contained in these lithe, detailed bodies.
Above, left: Robert Schultz, “Alli”, 2014, graphite on paper, 16 x 9.75″ All images courtesy Koplin del Rio Gallery xxxxxx
The drawings themselves are a marvel to behold. Naked bodies stand, sit, lie down, twist and extend for our viewing pleasure. Drawn in a polished yet realistic style, Schultz has chosen very carefully which bands of shadows to render as they flit across the body. Every crease, fold and wrinkle included is used to create the appearance of living, breathing flesh that is also rather idealized. The surfaces of the drawings themselves are fluid, glassy and smooth, like Schultz has recreated photographs of marble sculptures. It would be easy to classify New Drawings as a strong showing of Schultz’s recent work as the title indicates.
Yet as I looked closer at the attitudes emanating from each bodies, a sense of tension and mystery arose. In all but one of the drawings, none of the subjects depicted engages with us, the viewer: the figures either look away from us or are cropped. Two of the male models wear strikingly creepy animal masks, while one female figure (Standing Nude) seems to recoil from her own shadow, her hands and arms raised to cover her face.
Left: “Standing Nude”, 2013, graphite on paper, 22″ x 17″ paper; 32.5″ x 26.75″ framed.
Why do the models largely not meet our gaze—refuse to look at the artist drawing them? Who are these models to the artist, and why does the relationship seem formal and uncomfortable? It is as if the models largely refuse to engage with us because so much of them is on display physically, and they do not want to reveal any emotional or psychological nakedness along with the nudity.
Alli, the one subject who looks directly at us, raises more questions than she answers. Why is she the only subject who is clothed in any capacity? Why is she the only subject who directly meets our gaze even as she covers her chest with her hands. Does this contrast in how she is depicted reveal something about her relationship with Schultz that differs from how he interacts with the other models?
This dichotomy between the nudity of the figures and the general lack of emotional and personal nakedness of the subjects is cast into stark relief by two pairs of images that flank the entrance and exit to the exhibit. The former diptych, titled Out of Garden-Female and Out of Garden-Male, (right: 2014, silverpoint, 9″ x 7.75″ each) depict the naked bodies with a dollop of shame and discomfort: the figures are cropped at the head, and their bodies are tensed, hands attempting to cover their genitals. The works clearly reference the Fall of Man, when Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness in the Garden and were ashamed of it. Continuing in this vein, the second such diptych, entitled Offering and V Man implicitly references Adam and Eve once again. These figures are crouched over Pre-Raphaelite-esque grace, facing one another, with somber faces in profile. The male figure holds a round ball, potentially symbolizing Earth, and shields the side of his face from our gaze. The female figure holds a pear in her hand, potentially symbolizing the fruit that led to Adam and Eve’s downfall and their subsequent naked shame.
Left: “Terrance”, 2014, silverpoint, 6.75″ x 4.5″
By Deborah Anne Krieger, Contributing Writer
Deborah Krieger is a student at Swarthmore College, studying art history, with interests in studio art, foreign languages, film and media studies. She has also written for Hyperallergic, Title Magazine, and Printeresting, among others. She writes about art and culture on her own arts blog, I On the Arts (http://www.i-on-the-arts.com/).