“My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”
― Oscar Wilde
Viewing beauty as central to a society and its well-being, in 1878, Ruskin vilified James McNeill Whistler’s Nocturnes, accusing the American painter of “throwing pots of paint in the public’s face.” This verbal ejaculation is literally translated in Schweitzer’s oeuvre of 33 collages, in his use of impasted drips, rendered with characteristic sprezzatura to suggest an act of desecration. Moreover, these evocative drips, or “snows,” allude to the mental instability of Ruskin, the troubled, chaste critic, in his tortuous and tortured attempt to reconcile the Gothic ideal with the earthier side of human nature.
Enter Oscar Wilde on his deathbed: his apocryphal-sounding utterance is quoted above. Schweitzer elliptically infers the presence of the irreverent author, reclining, with a view of the wallpaper above his footboard. The horizontal bands of collage become a leitmotiv for the series, together with the severe or baroque frames that enclose the “innocuous” –the artist’s adjective– beige wallpaper that ignited Wilde’s fury.
Schweitzer’s The Snows of Ruskin captures the complexity and contradictions of the critic’s mind with its composite allusions and binary oppositions. Through improbable juxtapositions and art-historical citations, the artist succeeds in continuing the laudable tradition of épater la bourgeoisie — disturbing bourgeois complacency.