Robert Schultz became an artist for three compelling reasons: He was good at drawing, always liked it and never stopped.
Perhaps it’s this natural and straightforward progression that imbues Schultz’s drawings, which are showcased starting this Saturday at the Chazen Museum of Art, with such directness and honesty.
To be sure, there’s nothing simplistic about Schultz’s work. Working primarily in graphite, and sometimes in silverpoint, his drawings are meticulously detailed and render the body with scientific accuracy while also revealing the beauty of the human form.
Schultz is represented in galleries in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and has had shows of his work across the country. Yet he calls Madison home. Indeed, it has been since he was three years old, and he also received his art education at UW–Madison and has worked from a studio overlooking State Street since 1981.
It’s from this perch that Schultz sometimes finds inspiration for his work. “You feel everyone around you,” he says. “It’s nice to people-watch here. You never know what you’re going to find and end up drawing.”
Schultz regularly works eight- or nine-hour days in his studio, stopping only to eat a quick lunch, take a ten-minute break or go teach his life-drawing class at MATC. He likes having an entire day to work, to bring an idea out in a drawing. “Most days I never leave here,” he says. “It’s really fulfilling. The day just goes right by me.”
What Schultz does within those days at the studio can result in drastically varied drawings. One day it could be an anonymous nude with a long strip of cloth wrapped around his leg. And on another, it’s a study of a girl with a tough, confident expression, a ribbed tank top and lots of metal jewelry.
Such concepts for drawings didn’t always come easily for Schultz. The first year and a half out of graduate school was rough as he struggled to find ideas and the right way of expressing them. “Then once I got it, I really got it,” he says. “It just clicked and one idea would lead to another would lead to another.”
His greatest period of change occurred in the late 1980s as hard edges gave way to more gradation of light and shadow. He also began incorporating more texture, particularly in his depictions of skin, he says.
One thing that never changed, however, was Schultz’s dedication to drawing. He never regarded it as a means to become a better painter, as some artists do. Painting always seemed messy and felt like work, he says.
Over the years, Schultz’s drawings have been showcased in over twenty-five solo exhibitions. He’s finished and framed over four hundred pieces and creates about twelve to fifteen a year now.
Despite the work that goes into each drawing, Schultz doesn’t have a problem saying goodbye. If someone purchases a piece, that means the work resonated with the buyer, and the transaction helps validate the art, he says. “If they don’t sell, I feel like they’re failures,” he says.
And selling work is simply one step in a work’s journey. “They’re always mine,” he says. “It’s just that they’re on someone else’s wall.”
Schultz believes he’s at his peak, technique-wise, in creating art. The challenges now are to not repeat ideas and to get even better.
“You end up competing against yourself,” he says.
Robert Schultz Drawings, 1990–2007 runs September 20 to November 16 at the Chazen Museum of Art. An opening reception is Friday, 6–7:30 p.m. And on September 27 at 1 p.m., Schultz will present a studio talk and drawing demonstration.
Photos are courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art.