Andrew Lamb Schultz’s Salvaged Fantasies

Essay by Steven Dolan | Photographs by Sierra Stinson

Recently I found myself arguing the value of Andrew Lamb Schultz’s work with a friend. Their conceit: it’s cute (as if that is insufficient). BUT! I protested, doesn’t cuteness have transformative potential? Isn’t it possible to create work that is immediately satisfying for its surface level appeals to the flexing of our cheeks, that also does more should you so elect to live in a world where cuteness can be radical? “Cute” is certainly overused in my own vocabulary and can be invoked to infantilize and reduce people and actions to a pleasant passivity. Sensitivity to this is important, as is the context of its invocation.

Also important is recognizing that language is mutable, and that the terms of terms can be mutated and changed, queered beyond historically violent structures of power. Tracing the etymology of “cute,” one arrives first at acute, then variously: a needle, to sharpen, to arouse. “Cute” needn’t be regarded as exclusively slight. It’s cute when you hold your drunk friend’s hair back, it’s cute when strangers ask your pronouns, it’s cute when a bank is called to task for their support of unethical development, it’s cute when a neo-Nazi gets punched in the face and a proliferation of the video is accompanied by an exhaustive slew of soundtracks. Cuuute. Feel it.

Trust functions only if experienced mutually. Intention alone gets us very close to nowhere, but intentional listening is just as important as intentional speaking. Lamb invites you take in their work, saying this is glorious, this is beautiful, love this and I will show you the way to a better world.

In considering their show Eutopos / Utopos, one should note the ways in which this is a personally idealized, or at least preferred, space to exist in. In a world built for a few, the culling of what is affirming and nourishing to construct or restructure space is necessary for the survival of those on the margins. It is the queer imagination that takes these facets of a “good place” perhaps a safer space, in the hopes of achieving the impossible but still vital utopic place. It is essential to queer political imagination that there is impossibility.

In a conversation about their show, I confessed to Lamb that I had a sort of fantastic vision of their working process. One version of this imagined reality sees them in a minimal space that is more a spatial field than physical room. Meditative and serene, it’s an illuminated void where the artist has a kind of psychic communion with their ideas and channels that energy into work that is manifested with ease. I can only conclude that this sense comes from their images (and my own desires for work/art/love to be summoned on command), which has clung to me like a spectral dream.

This, of course, is not how Lamb works. They’ve described their practice to be compulsive, wherein doodling happens in the in-betweens: on work breaks, between day jobs, on the bus. Art work happens post-day job.

There is little time off. Much of the work created for the show was produced in an unorthodox studio space in a Capitol Hill basement, which could certainly be romanticized, but one resists. This show, like much of their work, nurtures with the proposal of a less chaotic world, a less demanding world; fantastic therapy that embraces the viewer with a sense of calm and affirmation: things could be different.

“A lot of the images and a lot of the drawings I make, are me depicting the daily life I want to be living that I’m not, and a lot of that is leisure,” Lamb told me. These dreamscapes are for their friends, their community, proletariats if you will. “It’s like meditations on Marxist ideology in a way.”
Lamb’s work opens a prismatic set of fantasies, some which feel within reach, and others that are seemingly impossible in nature. Such is the dichotomy of the show’s title.

“A lot of the images and a lot of the drawings I make,
are me depicting the daily life I want to be
living that I’m not, and a lot of that is leisure”

Lamb is an artist who creates a world, one with a particular vernacular that allows the viewer to consume the work as far as they choose to see in it. One can accept the sweet loveliness of the work on aesthetics alone, though its keener readings open greater dialogues around humanity and its relation to the world.

In Reclamation I (Mossy Ruins), Reclamation II (Mossy Nude), and Mossy Figure, the artist integrates plant life with human signifiers, whether they be built structures or figures themselves. Drawing on the architecture and sculpture of classical Greco-Roman antiquity, the supposed building blocks of Western civilization, they imagine the possibility of a human footprint becoming more enmeshed in nature. It is through natural interventions that signifiers of the violence of civilization are reclaimed. So-called development has been pacified and recycled for its aesthetic value.

Moss has been transformed into a delicately rendered system of multiples rather than a solitary blanketing substance, looking no less consuming. A departure in medium for the artist, Mossy Figure is a silk-screened soft sculpture. A pink figure embellished with bottle green faux fur and found artificial flowers sits atop a pedestal painted on all sides as if a column. Lamb’s hand is still ever-present as the planes of two dimensions cross over to three, a kind of trompe loeil play. Such an illusion is useful in understanding the way queer identities and genders are presented and perceived: what one sees may have a dissonant reality not visible to the obstinate eye.

A four-panel wooden screen painted over with mantises and orchids constitutes another departure for the artist. Here we have an aestheticized object, one rendered in soft pastels and tender crudity, that would most typically
exist in a feminine boudoir. This piece, however, carries greater venom than its flamboyant anachronism suggests. The title, Judith Screen (Orchids and Mantises), recalls the Biblical story of Judith who seduced and beheaded a drunken Holofernes, a general of Nebuchadnezzar leading the invasion of her home Bethulia. This context is paired with the erotic orchid and a predatory insect culturally associated with the femme fatale. Orchid mantises have adapted to resemble their namesake flower, a camouflage that obscures them from the view of both predators and prey. Further, many females of various mantis species practice sexual cannibalism, which sees them feeding on their mate; head once fertilization is secured. But reading this piece under the uncritically nostalgic, historically violent credo of “The Future Is Female” would be a mistake. Binary logic should be abandoned here, as everywhere. Along with Lamb’s figures, potential perceived gender markers should be approached with suspicion. Exclusionary feminist art historical derisions of present phalluses need not apply. What emerges from the work is a contemporary femme allegory: being seen can be dangerous and counter to survival, but there is power in reappropriating our surroundings, strength hiding in plain sight.

While the symbols employed are associatively female, they stand as narrative pillars of self-actualization. Integrated in a non-binary narrative, these markers are used expansively, pieces of a historical mosaic, recycled fragments of a queer architecture, revealing a flourishing potential in the spectrum of relationality. Among the pictorial and metaphorical ruins of civilizations past, what remains is a call to expanding our vision for the future. Part of this work is taking note of and cultivating the good, salvaging what we can from our failures. This also means recognizing that one’s version of “good” may not be universal. We will continue to fail every day all the time forever, tragically so, but we must keep grasping toward the impossible.

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