Edward Schulman’s ‘Winter Color’ imbues images with life


Edward Schulman’s new exhibition, “Winter Color,” at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven, is a lyrical ode to the beauty of color and movement. While abstract and expressionistic, his art touches base with the visible world.

“My work encompasses a keen interest in modern expressionism, movement, dance, including fashion and historical costume design, all blended to be impactful and at the same time familiar to the viewer,” Schulman says.

Schulman’s gestural style creates an immediacy to his art, a physicality that imbues each of his images with life. You see this from the very first work in the show, the small black-and-white charcoal drawing, “Kitty.” With just a few marks, he creates a sassy, minimally outlined woman in a burlesque stance. Schulman holds her in place with large swathes of black that stop just short of Kitty’s body, creating a halo of white that adds to the figure’s vibrancy. Although Kitty is from his imagination, Schulman hopes one day to create a narrative to accompany her, and the simplicity in his rendering allows us to invent a fantasy for her of our own as well.

“I’m the kind of artist who doesn’t compose his paintings; they sort of evolve,” Schulman comments. You see this process when you look from left to right at “Three Sisters.” Here, he imaginatively used an ink stopper to develop the three exuberant women who, like others in the exhibit, dance across the picture plane. He created the lively composition with sweeping gestures that range from solid black to more translucent as the ink starts to peter out: “I was very successful in being able to coordinate the three figures as if they were in the same frenzy, and no one figure dominates. It just worked, and was a rather magical piece for me.”

A self-taught artist, Schulman was initially happy just doing black-and-white drawings. Then he says, “People approached me and said, Why don’t you delve into some color? Over the years, I’ve become much more comfortable with color.” Although Schulman uses a limited, often muted palette, he accents with touches of bright color that define a head or imply some type of clothing or costume.

We see this in the aptly titled “Red Cap,” where row upon row of red-capped figures fill the composition from corner to corner, building an entirely abstract design. Schulman painted over a nonrepresentational background, which he developed by scraping the paint away with a credit card or sweeping with a palette knife, and then using the corner of the card to add pair after pair of slim legs that enhance the rhythm of this visually musical composition. Schulman enjoys the painting because, as he says, “You can personalize each one of the figures.”

Next, we come upon a tight-knit group of elongated, slim, African-inspired women depicted in a bluish-gray, with arms thrown aloft high above their golden-hued turbans. Aptly titled “Joy,” the work’s simple slim gray wood frame barely contains the figures’ exuberance.

Using his signature flowing application of pigment, Schulman sees “Gossip” as a group of women backstage preparing themselves for a colorful performance, or perhaps even a 1920s flapper scene. Looking closely, you notice that the women’s heads are tilted toward one another. “I find it very successful to include conversation in the direction of the faces. This endears itself to a lot of people who are trying to understand what it is. Just the fact that there are relationships between the figures, the viewer can see themselves as the person who is talking or perhaps listening,” he says.

Compared with the other paintings with figures in motion, “Market Day” is quieter, with six women standing waiting for a bus. Yet Schulman seems to have sent a subtle shock wave down the line. His vertically waving strokes, striking red clothing, and bright yellow head scarves make the composition vibrate with life. The painting is inspired by a scene he saw in Bequia, one of the islands in the Grenadines. “There was a certain grace that these women had just standing there. They had a certain kind of nobility,” he recalls.

Originally from New York City, Schulman sometimes paints urban landscapes. In “Apple,” we see Manhattan from the New Jersey side. His rapid, dynamic strokes depicting the Hudson River draw our eye across to the Manhattan skyline, adorned with the Twin Towers. Schulman enjoys studying established painters. Here, he calls upon the early American artist Stuart Davis, well known for his jazz-influenced, proto-pop art paintings of the 1940s and 1950s. About getting inspiration from other artists, he says, “You pick and choose, and hope to get something similar going, but in the end, it’s going to be your own interpretation.”

For Schulman, his pieces are “all about joy and lifting your spirits. It’s like the weekend versus during the week.” He is also extremely interested in the relationship between his work and the viewer. “I don’t paint for profit. I paint to socialize my images to the public. I paint for that moment when someone has to have the work for their own. I find it especially rewarding when they learn that the work is very affordable.”

He continues, “Art is a shared experience — a communication between the artist and the viewer. I hope you respond to the image, remember something familiar, something important personally, and something you’d like to re-remember.”

“Winter Color” is on view through Feb. 28 at Mocha Mott’s, 15 Main St. in Vineyard Haven, during store hours.