First published: Fall 2004
It was a chance encounter with a couple of small, idiosyncratic figural sculptures a little more than twenty years ago that led me to seek out one Bernard G. Schatz. After learning that he was the artist who had made the two pieces I had seen in a private collection, I eventually found my way to the dilapidated farmhouse where Schatz then lived, on fifty wooded acres in the mountains of southern West Virginia.
Schatz’ studio at the time was an unheated, wood-frame outbuilding whose walls, floor and storage compartments were filled with thirty years worth of his finely crafted, thematically sophisticated art.
Varying widely in size and ingenious in their use of materials, these were singular works indeed – distinctively stylised, amusingly grotesque figures, masks, sculpted body parts and other forms whose surfaces were mostly painted with elaborately concentric patterns in high-key colours. Many of these pieces were intended as portraits of historical and mythological figures, while some were clearly sexual in nature and others were politically motivated. There was a strong, satirical edge to much of the work, but the initial and primary appeal was visual, and on that level the densely configured installation of sculpture in Schatz’ wilderness hut had an electrifying impact.