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Meticulous, stubborn, driven, and original are all descriptions that come to mind when considering local artist Pete Schulte, who opened his first New York City exhibition this past Tuesday, July 2nd, at the artist-run 55 Mercer Gallery in the Soho District.
Schulte, 32, went to high school at Alleman and studied art at Blackhawk College, University of Oregon, and University of Iowa. He works by day as a promotions producer at KWQC and by night and early dawn's light as a mixed-media and conceptual artist.
Schulte has had several shows in the Quad Cities region and has collaborated with many of the local twenty- and thirtysomething artists to curate Kanga Artist Cooperative shows at various venues on both sides of the river. Remember the billboard with the broken-legged chair and the cryptic question: "Is your vessel damaged?" That was Schulte's project.
Schulte's penchant for contemporary art issues and insatiable knowledge about the international art scene may have seemed a bit aloof to a few participants along the way, but it has also proven to be the foundation for his personal quest to share his artistic vision on a worldwide level. Say what you will about Schulte, he's a doer. This spring he had a successful show at the Standard Gallery in Chicago (alongside painter David Kaiser) at which he sold a work to a collector and garnered a positive review in the New Art Examiner.
Schulte's current work is primarily derived from variations on the theme of a rectangle shape with four rectangle-shaped holes, not unlike an image of a domino, but with rectangles instead of circles. His treatment of this shape has ranged from light-box installations to mixed-media paintings to steel sculpture.
What is constant throughout his work is meticulous attention to pattern, but with a subtle approach to each element's individuality. Viewed from afar his works form an industrial or semi-predictable field of shapes and colors. Viewed more closely, the works exhibit a love affair with nuances and variations, subtle differences that no doubt are the elements of his own personal system of organization. Art critic Michelle Grabner wrote in the New Art Examiner of Schulte's works, "The combination of the richly worked grounds overlaid with a network of these marks suggests an indecipherable system of accounting, a tally that is objective yet particular, decorative yet indiscriminate." She refers to Schulte's works as "open-ended investigations of nonhierarchical systems."
He employs many different techniques to achieve the surface and feel of the works, including powdered pigment, marble dust, graphite, ink, acrylic, and drilled holes on panels.
When asked what he wants for the viewer, Schulte explained, "I'm trying to kind of set the table for the viewer, set the parameters. Each viewer brings their own experiences to the table. I hope I leave enough doors open for them to somehow make a connection." It's tough to classify Schulte or his work, and he states, "I don't like to be spoon-fed or didatic about things. The best things for me really aren't about anything?they just are. I want the work to trigger something, to just grab you, like the music of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane or the art of Agnes Martin and Richard Tuttle. That's the level I hope to achieve."
55 Mercer Gallery, is one of the oldest artists' cooperative galleries in NYC, spanning thirty years of artist run shows. "It reminds me a lot of the Kanga," says Schulte. "A large space, up three flights on a long narrow staircase." Artists that Schulte feels are important and inspiring that have shown there include Johnathan Lasker, Thomas Nozkowski, and Ursula von Rydingsvard. A rotating selection committee is made up of member artists. There is no formal contact person at the gallery, and artists who wish to join the cooperative must first submit slides and resumes blindly to the selection committee and secure an exhibit prior to joining. Schulte explained the reason he wanted to show at 55 Mercer Gallery: "It's an artist-run space. I'm drawn to those because you have a lot more freedom, and I wanted a show in NYC, in a big space. At commercial galleries you may only get one piece in a group show. I sent in my work and Ethelyn Honig (chair of the current selection committee) was drawn to it and invited me to mount a show." For Schulte, the next steps are to keep producing work "that is solid and can connect to people. I really cannot control the commercial-appeal aspect, so if you're showing work you want to make sure it connects somewhere."