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Charlotte A. Schatz

Painter · Sculptor
Born January 6, 1929, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“Form and color are my primary concerns.”
-- Charlotte Schatz, 2005

Painter and sculptor Charlotte Schatz’s artistic career is one characterized by distinct periods of production and style. Though she began her artistic career as an artist who created solely in two dimensions, from 1969 to 1983 she worked primarily as a sculptor. During this period she created cast and fabricated minimalist-inspired works in metals, plastics, glass, wood, and mirrors. Though unified in its minimalism, her work from this period varies greatly in terms of scale, materials, and tone. Circum Cum Circumflex (1969), for instance, is a series of intimately sized, cast aluminum objects that, due to its minimalist style and mysterious Latin title, leaves its ultimate meaning open-ended and totally up to the viewer. However, her Pipe Environment (1982) is contrastingly straightforward. Nearly four feet tall it is exactly what its title implies: a sculpture made completely out of pipes.

Schatz has since attributed her shift in focus from two to three dimensions to a course she took at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Schatz earned her BFA from the institution in 1969 and then returned to the school in 1978-1979 for a period of graduate study. Not long after leaving the Tyler School of Art for a second time, Schatz’s style changed again. In 1983, she returned to painting and drawing in oils, acrylics, and mixed media. However, this time Schatz’s subject matter dealt with contemporary issues such as homelessness, environmental changes, and the toll of war. Works such as Madonna of the Streets (1989), Environmental Predella Panel (1989), and Guernica/Bosnia (1992) are all much more direct in subject and tone than Schatz’s minimalist sculpture; each painting forces the viewer to directly confront the issue at hand.

When she moved her studio to the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia in 1995, Schatz’s focus shifted once more. While she continued to make paintings concerned with political issues, she also became fascinated with the many abandoned buildings in her neighborhood. The surrounding deserted factories, with their many steam pipes, water towers, and powerfully geometric architecture, became the subjects for an extended series of paintings that investigates the urban landscape in North Philadelphia. In the tradition of artists such as Precisionist painters Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, Schatz's vivid, dynamic paintings and drawings transform derelict structures and machinery into explorations of color, form, and rhythm. This style developed even further when Schatz traveled to the south of France when on sabbatical from her teaching position at Bucks County Community College. According the artist, the trip was inspiring and she, “returned to the studio with a heightened sense of color and form.” In paintings such as Souvenir De Arles (1996), Schatz treats a residential French street as she had previously been painting abandoned factories. Though a completely different environment, we are able to see formal connections in paintings from her French trip to those created in Philadelphia. The strong lines, simple geometric forms, and sense of space utilized in both series enable to viewer to explore spaces that otherwise might be too linked with certain connotations – for example, North Philadelphia may be assumed dirty and derelict while Southern France is romantic and beautiful – without prejudice. Through her work Schatz enables the viewer to isolate and investigate “the dimensional aspects of the landscape and architecture.”

Schatz remains fascinated with, “the detritus of the Industrial Age,” but, as she has done throughout her career, her methods continue to change. Beginning in the early 2000s, she has introduced oil paint sticks over acrylic paint as well as digital collages created in Photoshop to her repertoire. The artist has dubbed works created through this hybrid process “Combines,” perhaps in reference to sculptor and painter Robert Rauschenberg’s own label-defying work of the same title. Though certainly reminiscent of her earlier paintings of urban buildings and decay, as Schatz herself notes, “These pieces are much more abstract than my industrial sites – more about color, texture, and surface.” Indeed, when placed within the context of her larger career, Schatz’s Combines are evidence of the artist’s ever evolving technique and style.

Schatz’s work has been exhibited at the James A. Michener Art Museum in A Legacy Preserved, The First Decade of Collecting at the Michener Museum (1998), The Contemporary Eye (2005), and Parting Gifts: Artists Honor Bruce Katsiff, Director/CEO, 1989-2012 (2012).

Image: Charlotte Schatz, photo courtesy of the artist, James A. MichenerArt Museum library

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