American artist Dana Schutz is best known for her distinctive visual style characterized by vibrant color and tactile brushwork. Her large-scale paintings capture imaginary stories, hypothetical situations, and impossible physical feats. Schutz’s at once dark and humorous paintings combine abstraction and figuration into oddly compelling and intriguing pictures that point to the legacies of such figures as George Grosz and Wassily Kandinsky. Schutz’s unique voice in painting exemplifies the expansive possibilities of the medium today.

Over the last decade, Schutz has focused her painting practice on tightly structured scenes in which subjects are compressed by the boundaries of the canvas. Big Wave exemplifies the artist’s spatial exploration. In the painting, two children kneeling on the shore build a sand castle, while seemingly oblivious to the drowning figures alongside of them. Multiple limbs, bodies, and giant fish are entangled in the tumbling, green wave. The juxtaposition of these two scenes with their distinct color palettes and energy levels creates two worlds within a flatly composed canvas, showcasing Schutz’s truly individual and inventive compositions. As evoked in Big Wave, Schutz explores what can occur within parameters of space and time, and how finite zones can unfold into anomalous and evocative narratives.

Big Wave joins Schutz’s canvas Sneeze, 2002, in the ICA/Boston’s collection. In addition to expanding the museum’s holdings of paintings, this work exemplifies the abstract figuration seen in works by artists Joan Semmel, Lisa Yuskavage, Marlene Dumas, and Louise Bourgeois in the ICA’s collection.