Pete Schulte


Written By Brett Levine // Photography by Beau Gustafson

Sometimes putting your finger precisely on what motivates you to move in a direction can be a little difficult. More often, it wouldn’t make any difference anyway. Such is the case for artist Pete Schulte. “My father was a basketball coach,” he begins, “so the idea that I would be a professional artist wasn’t really something that was considered at all.” It wasn’t that Schulte wasn’t surrounded by inspirational, creative people—his father included. “What I did learn from my father, right from the outset, was full immersion. He would watch the same play a hundred times trying to learn exactly what had gone wrong. Now, I’ve spent the better part of my adult life fully immersed in this.”

The ‘this’ he is speaking of is contemporary art. Schulte is highly regarded in the field. He is represented by Jeff Bailey Gallery in New York, and Whitespace Gallery in Atlanta, and in April he was named the Alabama State Fellow for the 2017 Southern Prize from South Arts. Yet in many ways, Schulte takes these accolades as highlights in a career that is marked by consistency, commitment, and diligence. “I make very intimate work that’s easy to walk by,” he explains. This is evident to anyone who spends even a few minutes in one of his studios: a table is filled with drawings that seem to recede in scale.

What’s not readily apparent, but what quickly becomes clear when you spend a few minutes with Schulte himself, is that his work is the synthesis of a tremendous number of influences. Music is incredibly present: a visit to his website reveals references to artists as diverse as Wire, Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Hawkwind, The Flatlanders, and Rakim—among others. Or consider his love of cinema, evident in F is for Empire, a drawing of a still from Andy Warhol’s film Empire, a static shot of the Empire State Building. Schulte makes a drawing of a moving image of a static shot of a fixed object. Think about that.

Most of this occurs with a delicate, restrained palette. Schulte works with graphite, gouache, and ink, meaning that he is often exploring blacks, whites, and shades of gray. This creates subtle nuances that are warm, bright, and rich. As Schulte explains, “I use an economy of means in my work, but this is not minimal work.” What he asserts very strongly, and sincerely, is that everyone both has and brings enough personal experience to seeing his works to be part of the conversation. “I’m not really interested in the discussions about what artists believe their works mean,” he begins. “I think when you start by saying that your work has a particular meaning, and that someone else’s experience of it is wrong, you’re cutting off a lot of very intimate experiences that someone might have or bring to the work when they see it.”

Schulte is also adamant about the fact that although it may not be apparent at a glance, his work is not in any way divorced from current events. Pointing at a work on the wall in his studio, he remarks that it is one of a series of flags that he has been creating. “My work isn’t necessarily abstract,” he explains. “There is no place I won’t go to make a work if I need to—so I’ll draw things that are representational, of course, if that’s what I need to do.” Using the iconography of the flag, Schulte has begun a subtle examination of the personal and the political, with a series of works including Flag for Good People Who Draw Troublesome Things, and I Against I (Flag for a House in Conflict).

Asked how he would like people to think about his exhibitions, Schulte has a wonderful response: “I think of my shows as a single experience made up of discrete parts—like an album.” To achieve this, he might have an overture which is a large-scale wall drawing, a segue which is a suite of small-scale drawings, and a finale that could be a series of similarly themed works. However it is composed, Schulte simply hopes it has a “sense of rightness. Basically,” he continues, “it comes down to trying to balance a sense of intimacy, nuance, touch, and subtlety.”

When not creating his own works, Schulte continues his investigations through The Fuel and Lumber Company, a curatorial initiative that he and his wife, artist Amy Pleasant, founded in 2013. “We’ve always wanted to find ways to create even more ways to bring innovative projects by artists we believe in to the Birmingham community and the wider community at large.”

If you ask Pete Schulte directly what motivates him to make work, he will explain that early in his career he was considering or responding to something that might have confused him. Now, he is responding to something that might have confronted him, confounded him, or something he simply wants to consider. Regardless of his motivations, he simply brings it to the fore, and leaves it here for us to see. As he explains, “I want my work to have, or start from, an emotional place or have some emotional content. Basically, in life, there is a certain amount of joy, and a certain amount of heartache, and everything else is in the middle.”

Leave a Reply