The battle between image and the physical limits of the surface to which it will be applied — simply, that of composition — is one the painter will often be found wrangling with. The edges of the canvas, the panel, the tarpaulin, whatever, will always contain its image.

Brooklyn-based Dana Schutz’ new show at New York’s Petzel Gallery presents works that embody the claustrophobia an image may suffer if it had feelings. The malleability of the picture demanded by the artist, as it is bent, cropped, stretched and skewed is evident to see in these panicked paintings.

The titular work, Fight in an Elevator, conjures up the mental image that it is the product of a wrestle between Schutz, posed as heroic painter, and a giant tube of paint golem that has been crammed into the interior of a canvas, like a grown man locked in a washing machine. But it seems a fight of artistic necessity rather than violence, and although the image’s discomfort is clear to see, it is one of passive resignation.

These images of compression may induce a sense of discomfort within the viewers too, for they are reminiscent of stuff of the night, the tricks your fraught and fretful mind plays on you when sleep cannot be found. Once more, the subjects in Schutz’ paintings only display a mere glimpse of terror in their private entrapment, turning instead to submission. The bather in Slow Motion Shower looks pained, an oversized body forced to forever stoop to conform to the canvas’ format. These images are held captive, and it seems tempting, if one could find the key on a hook somewhere, to let them roam free.

Fight in an Elevator runs until 24 October at Petzel Gallery, NY.

Fight in an Elevator 2015 oil on canvas 96 x 90 inches 243.8 x 228.6 cm
Slow Motion Shower 2015 oil on canvas 78 x 72 inches 198.1 x 182.9 cm
As Normal as Possible 2015 oil on canvas 40 x 36 inches 101.6 x 91.4 cm
Lion Eating Its Tamer 2015 oil on canvas 83.5 x 89 inches 212.1 x 226.1 cm
Horsey Situation 2015 oil on canvas 66 x 47.25 inches 167.6 x 120 cm
Shaking Out the Bed 2015 oil on canvas 114 x 213.75 inches 289.6 x 542.9 cm
Fight in an Elevator 2 2015 oil on canvas 96 x 90 inches 243.8 x 228.6 cm
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