Sunday, June 3, 2012

coffee, conundrums and convolutions

Bastienne Schmidt at Ricco Maresca

Growing up in Greece and Germany, as a child Bastienne Schmidt was often surrounded by her archeologist father's lifetime of research and the ancient vessel fragments he presided over. The artist's memories of a life silhouetted against the crisp blue of the Aegean serve as a powerful source for the paintings now on view at Ricco Maresca.

Untitled Silhouette Vessel, 2012, polymer paint and coffee on paper

When Schmidt and I spoke at her studio last week, the conversation illuminated her focus in a way that shed new light for me on this complex body of painting, collage, and photography. 

In much of her work she employs a visual alphabet that is informed by language as well as personal biography, memory and the politics of self.

Collection of Soaps, 2003, Chromogenic print

In the above work from her 2010 publication, Home Stills, Schmidt assembled used bars of soap on a floral ground -- a tribute both to the field work her father brought home and to her observations on the artistry to be located within domestic life. 

From the Silhouette Vessel series, 2012

The new works -- part self-portrait, part memorial -- are a sort of homage to the artist's earliest knowledge of structured thinking that she refers to as "typologies" or "declarations of meaning." 

Schmidt's approach to art making might fall under the rubric of the pseudoscientific; as she organizes her thinking, she groups her oeuvre into bodies that range from explorations on the female archetype to mortality to fields of abstraction. 

In the Silhouette Vessels, Schmidt doesn't so much paint vessels as she orchestrates the movement of espresso and paint -- willing it more than painting it -- into form. As the liquids fuse into fractal ridges and pools of color, the dominant hues (variants of an arid Mediterranean blue) ooze into vessel forms that range in shape from spheres and pods to beakers. 

There's a performative aspect to this work, as if memory has washed over Schmidt and come to rest in these vessel forms.

In her studio, we looked at paintings from the Highways series, gigantic works in which loopy lines traverse broad paper geographies, intersecting one another at various junctures. 

The connective imagery within each bundle of crisscrosses are collage elements -- aerial photographs of highway systems, each one carrying long lines of automobiles -- visible only on close inspection. 

Highways, 2011, acrylic and collage on paper, 90 x 42"

Among Schmidt's systems of thinking are other systems -- a little like a mirror looking into a mirror -- that fold over inside of themselves. This is, I think, key to understanding this intriguing body of work. 
detail, Highways

Bastienne Schmidt, Silhouette Vessels, is on view at Ricco Maresca through June 16th.

Bastienne Schmidt, Silhouette Vessels, Ricco/Maresca

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