“Build a Fire,” Pete Schulte’s show at Whitespace, uses minimalist artwork with a spare palette to turn the rustic gallery into a space of pure light and shadow. The site-specific drawings and installations use the ever-changing ambient light to play with the viewer’s perception. After several site visits, Schulte, who lives in Tuscaloosa, produced drawings inspired by and evocative of the gallery’s architecture. Sculptures are installed to play off of the works on paper, giving the show an installation quality. The “fire” Schulte refers to in the title is not literally present in any of these works; do not expect hot, uncontrolled imagery. Rather, these works are calming, quiet interpretations of light and shadow.
The first piece you see, Shoot Out the Lights, is about the most colorful any of the work gets. The drawing depicts what looks like a series of keyholes in tones of aqua and gray. Although done in simple graphite and pigment, the image shimmers with nuanced colors. Viewed from different angles, the drawing seems to change; the evolving patterns and colors reveal the texture of the materials and precision of the artist’s hand. This is a beautiful piece to start with, and seems to invoke the idea of opening a new door in the mind for seeing art.
Light and shadow form the basis for much of the imagery in this show. The drawing French Film Blurred pt. 6 looks like a darkened room with only a small sliver of light peeking through the door. The mounted sculpture Wall in a Flat Black looks like a simple box of geometric shapes in shades of black, white, and gray. On closer inspection, the piece casts shadows on the wall and on itself to extend and manipulate its form. The drawing Sounds Like Someone Else’s Song echoes the angles of the ceiling and skylight; I’d never realized there were skylights in Whitespace until this drawing got me to simply look up and see the light. Wherever you turn, the natural light filling Whitespace plays with, changes, and enhances Schulte’s artwork.
Two of Schulte’s inspirations are Agnes Martin and Sol LeWitt, evidenced by the wall paintings in “Build a Fire.” Goodbye Old Paint uses three shades of white to create a very refined, meditative composition. This piece immediately reminded me of Martin’s gridded, Zen pencil drawings. This piece is for sale; however, you will not be getting a chunk of Sheetrock from Whitespace. The artist, in the fashion of LeWitt, will create another version on a wall of your choice.
The sculptures in this show carry over the same minimalist, light-and-shadow theme of the 2-D work. Broken Line Drawing, a 9-foot-tall enamel and aluminum sculpture, is composed of segments painted with vertical stripes of silver and black that pivot off a central axis. Its sister piece, Lying in State, in the whitespec project space, appears to be similarly constructed with rotated segments; however, a closer look reveals that it’s just an illusion of the striped patterning on the unbroken aluminum rod. In the cool, darkened whitespec, Lying in State actually does have the somber presence of a dead body, clearly living up to its name. The peculiar piece The Clock is an enameled aluminum square placed on the floor with concentric circular tracks carved into the surface. Ball bearings revolve around the tracks, and apparently this piece was a hit with kids at the opening. The artist reportedly checks in with the gallery daily to make sure the constellations have been rotated in their orbits.
Overall, “Build a Fire” is a beautiful show full of surprising, well-crafted artworks. You have to get very close to some of the pieces to see their subtle details, but it’s here that you see the touch of the artist’s hand. All of the pieces are much more intricate and playful than they initially appear. Schulte’s art responds to and engages the light and space of the gallery, thus making this a very dynamic body of work.
Matthew Terrell writes, photographs, and creates videos in the fine city of Atlanta. His work can be found regularly on the Huffington Post, where he covers such subjects as the queer history of the South, drag culture, and gay men’s health issues. He is a cofounding member of Legendary Children, Atlanta’s premier queer art collective. Terrell received an Idea Capital Grant in 2014 for his project “Sweet Tea: The Story of the Queer South.” In 2014, he found a forgotten fragment of a Keith Haring mural at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta—it was his most proud achievement. Terrell received his BFA and MFA in writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design; he also has an MA in communications from Georgia State University.