“Floating World” by John Schulz: Gelb Gallery Exhibit Uses Old-Time Comics To Create New Meaning

A finely outlined, comic-like print depicts a boy being electrocuted by his kite caught in a wire, while a girl nearly spills hot soup from a stove in a nearby print. In another piece on the wall, a family cries over a drowned child by the ocean. The series of fourteen woodblock printings, titled “Some Dos & More Don’ts”, are made of the intricately layered colors from vintage images. The series is part of artist John Schulz’s print exhibition “Floating Worlds”, currently on display in Gelb Gallery. The exhibit opening took place this past Sunday. During the opening, Schulz described his liking for comics since childhood and how the genre has since been the basis from which he extracts and re-creates his own images. Many of the prints on display consist of two completely irrelevant subjects placed sideby-side, collages of comics cut-outs or overlapping prints from two different wood blocks. “A big part of what I do is retransform them, by recombining them and taking snippets and parts of those images and re-drawing them. That hands-on [process] changes the mark, changes the context… If you put two unlikely things together you get a third meaning, a new meaning,” Schulz said. Schulz based the idea for “Some Dos & More Don’ts” on the seven deadly sins and seven acts of mercy. He found visual representations of the idea in the 1953 Guidebook for Children, published by the Michigan State Police. Therese Zemlin, Instructor in Art, said “What the work does is that it takes the images from the safety booklet for children… [and] opens them up in a way that you can start to interpret them, and see a different narrative in them. In some cases, it might be something that was positive that starts to look creepy here.” A seven-piece collection called “FMC Xerographs” features an array of black-and white comic cutouts of people and objects: two halves of an orange above a whited-out speech bubble collaged to a chimney on a different sized paper in a print called “Use Filters”, a woman opening a fridge connecting to the doors of a bus on another cutout, a hammer held by a hand on another fragment and an indistinguishable window in the background of “Into the Impossible”. Emily Trespas, Chair and Instructor in Art, said “Many of the things might feel unintentional, but if you look there are different parts of the image that are lined up so there’s continuity. The piece in the corner where the woman is opening the refrigerator, it’s leading right where the bus and the door would be. As an artist I feel like John intentionally lined up that up to create a continuity for our visual.” All of the prints in the exhibit were taken from other images. Schulz’s studio is filled with series of robot catalogues, children’s books and furniture catalogues he’s collected over the years, according to Trespas. “I appropriate a lot of stuff from children’s books from the 1930s and the 1940s, and I’ve gone back earlier than that into 1890s. I have a huge collection of material. Right now I’m interested in comic books from the 1940s and early 1950s,” said Schulz. “I think when [the vintage images] are put into this medium, they’re made into this pop and timeless thing locked into an era.” Trespas said. According to Schulz, art is more than an interest, but rather an integral part of himself. “If I don’t make art I go nuts. It’s not like I like making it, it’s like I have to make it. It’s a part of me. I can’t not do it,” said Schulz