The abstract graphite-and-pigment drawings of Pete Schulte (b. 1970) are like anonymous Tantric works that hint at experiences beyond the mundane. Predominately black, gray and white, with only blushes of color, the 25 small works on view were made between 2008 and ’12, and most are under 13 inches high or wide. They are painstakingly executed with barely discernible marks filling the paper to its edges. Such strong physicality contrasts with the elusive nature of the subject matter. While the pieces are considerably different from each other, all feature centralized symbols. Some of these—spirals, blocks of thick stripes, pyramids and mandalalike circles—are directly reminiscent of Tantric forms, while others remind us of something we’ve seen elsewhere—though we can’t identify what.
In these elegant drawings, with their rich graphite surfaces, the blacks are dense, the whites glow and neutrals are tinted with subtle color. Light seems to emanate from within the surface, emerging gradually like the dawn. In Sounds Like Someone Else’s Song (2010), a glow with orange and green overtones rises behind a squarely planted monolith with Daniel Buren-esque black and white bars, a motif (sometimes fractured) that occurs frequently in Schulte’s works. Other drawings involve forms suggesting entrances or exits, doorways and stairs to nowhere, grids of identical tablets and tombstonelike forms, and horizons erupting into narrow rectangles. There are also images that feature indefinable organic shapes.
Starling (2012), the most complex drawing in the show, may indicate a satisfying trend combining the geometric with the organic. In the upper half, unexpectedly cropped at the top, is a “mandala” of three concentric circles, from which two streams of light, highlighted in orange, shine outward from either side like beacons. Below, outlined in black, is a non-specific organic form, its halves sectioned like the wings of a moth or bat. One of five small equal-size white dots sits in an arc at the top, like a head between arms raised in supplication. All of this is exceptionally subtle, and the palpable sense of yearning the drawing evokes may not even be intentional.
Like Schulte, a number of artists today—Cary Smith and Ann Pibal especially come to mind—seem to owe a debt to the compulsively perfectionist quality of the small abstract drawings and paintings of Myron Stout. And deliberate or not, one can see a hint of Precisionists Sheeler and Demuth in the hard edges, wheel-like rounds, shafts of light and lines shaded to look like paper creases that Schulte employs. Yet there is nothing nostalgic about the works; indeed, they could just as easily portend the future. These are studies in energy, with no place in time.
Pete Schulte: Starling, 2012, graphite, acrylic ink and pigment on paper, 73⁄4 by 8 inches; at Luise Ross.