Myra Schuetter’s Not-So-Still Lifes
|I Should Have Stopped with the Animals|
|Devil's in the Details|
|Distortion vs. Transparency (detail)|
|Distortion vs. Transparency|
By Tom Wachunas
Hopefully, we are seeing a time in our history when people are beginning to break out of their “molds” and are able to be the people they are and want to be…What helps one segment of our society helps all of us. – Myra Schuetter
EXHIBIT: We’ve Got Issues: Watercolors by Myra Schuetter / at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA), 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton / THROUGH JULY 3, 2021 / Facemasks required–
Visit www.cantonart.org/reservetickets 330.453.7666
Tuesday - Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm /Friday - Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm; Sunday: 1 – 5 pm / Regular Admission: Adults - $8, Seniors (60+) & Students (with ID) - $6 / Children (12 & under) and Museum Members – FREE / FREE ADMISSION on Thursdays
Myra Schuetter is a native of Jasper, Indiana. For the past 40 years or so she’s been honing her considerable skills as a watercolorist working in a meticulously realistic style. Her complex and intricate compositions are executed with a commanding exactitude of details and exquisite color dynamics that are nothing short of astonishing.
These very large watercolor paintings – you could rightly call them heroic in scale - are in one sense still lifes. They’re also allegories, populated by lots of toys and action figures. At first you might think that the paintings are children’s tales, or memories, or perhaps tailored to a child’s perspective.
So on yet another level, the paintings are narratives. These elaborate visual stories are actually very grown-up commentaries and observations that often speak to the social and political sturm und drang of our troubled time and place. Schuetter effectively explains what inspired them in the placards posted with each painting.
For her 2016 work, I Should Have Stopped with the Animals, the artist recalled an occasion of talking with her husband about the state of the world. At one point in the conversation he had asked, "Do you think God ever said, 'Maybe I should have stopped with the animals’?" The various toy figures in the painting are engaged in a war, all transpiring on and around a large Bible, opened to the Book of Genesis (the story of creation and the end of Eden). Not to be irreverent, but the husband’s inspiring question does remind me a bit of Mark Twain’s glib suggestion to God that, “… the human being is another disappointment and… is no considerable improvement upon the monkey.”
Distortion vs. Transparency is an especially intriguing work from 2012, prompted by Schuetter’s recollection of the terribly contentious public meetings in her city where her husband was once the chairman of the Utilities Services Board. The meetings were held to determine a feasible alternative to the city’s outmoded coal-fired power plant.
In technique alone, particularly in the way Schuetter renders a variety of colored glass vessels (a ‘transparency” that tends to emphasize or exaggerate the words visible behind the vessels ) and the shadows they cast, the painting is a tour de force. It’s a three-tiered essay of sorts. The characters arranged in the top row represent a pompous, loud and angry faction spreading misinformation. The middle row presents more reasonable folks, sincerely seeking a viable solution, while the bottom row presents what the artist calls the trusting “silent majority.”
In the border that frames the painting called Listen, that same word appears in 57 languages. Meanwhile the image shows a diverse crowd of confrontational characters holding protest signs. In her comments on the work, Schuetter has written, “…For all of our arguing, conflict and anger, no one is listening to the “other side,”…getting to know the other side and truly listening to them usually doesn’t happen…”There are multiple voices present in this work - indeed throughout the entire exhibit - and none of them really ‘still’ (as in still life) after all. So look and read closely. But also listen. You might even hear your own