A House Divided 

Married artists Stephen Schultz and Romey Stuckart keep a wall between their works.

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It’s often easy to spot two artists from the same period. When two artists are from the same school, cross influence is unavoidable (think Klimt and Schiele). And when two prominent artists are romantically linked, like Kahlo and Rivera, the artistic interplay appears brazen.

But sometimes the opposite is true.

To witness the interplay, or lack thereof, between Stephen Schultz and Romey Stuckart, you would have to catch them exhibiting together—and apparently that’s a rarity. Although they’ve done a few group shows, the only time they really shared a gallery was under an umbrella title “Two Studios, One Bed.” Now that they happen to both be showing at the Salt Lake Art Center, the husband/wife team have chosen to downplay their relationship. Sure, they still share a Sandpoint, Idaho, home. But most importantly, the studios remain sternly separate.

“It’s got to be pointed out that the first thing we did in our new space was build a 20-foot tall, 50-foot long, six-inch thick wall between our studios,” says Schultz. “So there really is only overlap that way by direct invitation.”

Those invitations are obviously rare, since that overlap is practically nil. Stuckart’s work in the Street Level Gallery covers a period of a dozen years and exhibits her shift from emotional landscapes to abstracts she likes to refer to as “psychological spaces.” For Schultz, exhibiting in the Main Gallery, the work spans a 20-year period and includes everything from small graphite drawings to large paintings that explore myth and human relationship through a staged world once-removed from reality.

Included in Stuckart’s show are two pieces of early work, capturing the natural landscape she uses as artistic inspiration. Her more recent works—abstracts that capture the same sensibilities, yet delve deeper into the underpinnings of her aesthetic—make up the largest portion of the exhibit. Curiously, this show turns on Stuckart’s shift between the two styles, as opposed to a show curated on one or the other. In a way, this evolution of her creative process is the theme driving the exhibit, as well as the artist.

Stuckart says that moving to Idaho and living in the woods drew her in that direction. It became natural to shift—to go more internal, into the psychological—while still using the natural environment as a language. She started focusing on the process of painting and actually working with the physical aspects of her medium. She even stopped taking direct references from outside her studio.

“The abstracts began to come about as a sort of journey of its own self within the studio,” says Stuckart. “Before, I would see something in the woods and I would respond to it thinking that there was something within it for me. Now I paint more by listening to the painting and the process and to me they are more whole, organically evolving out of themselves. They’re really about that metamorphoses, like nature goes through, more about the process of creating.”

And perhaps that is where a crossover does exist. Stuckart’s abstract “psychological spaces” are, in essence, the same as Schultz’s world once-removed from reality.

Take “Icarus,” for example. The sprawling, falling Icarus wears an expression of confused fright or agony, as if he’s well aware of his own disastrous foible. But what distinguishes Schultz’s play with myth from any other is how the canvas is vertically halved by the engulfing darkness. Then you notice that the vanishing light source isn’t the sun, but rather the bright white wings that have failed to carry Icarus to glory. It isn’t the world that fails him; it’s his own inanity, and Schultz makes that point with clarity.

This human quintessence is at the core of every Schultz painting, whether the surface subject is mythical—as in “Expulsion” and “Apocalypse”—or a simple interaction between two figures—as in “Offering” and “Secret.”

“My work is an amalgam of self-portrait, current event and myth,” says Schultz. “I’m trying to get at these fundamentals that are in myth and make them relevant to 2003. It just seems like life plays the same issues over and over again, for you and me and Romey, as well as the people next door and across the street. I’m trying to get at those core human issues.

“That is one overlap between our work,” admits Schultz. “There is this flux that on one hand is the paint, on the other it is the space, light and form of the painting. In Romey’s paintings it comes together in trees, bushes, rocks, plant and water, and mine comes from walls, people, ladders and curtains. But the spirit of it is much the same.”

After experiencing both exhibits, that spirit becomes the evident link between the two artists. It’s a spirit of human universals—psychological, mythical, emotional—that both use as fodder for their art. And apparently, it’s even a spirit that can move fluidly through the seemingly solid wall that separates their work.

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About The Author

Natalie Taylor

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