Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Size Matters: Bill Schmidt's Most Recent Paintings Explore Emerging Trend of Intimate Abstraction

4/30/2008 Baltimore Citypaper
ART | Visual Arts

MATCH GAME: Bill Schmidt's "One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other."

Bill Schmidt: Outside of Time
At Paperwork Gallery through May 2
By Bret McCabe

HANGING ANYTHING ON THE WALL often transforms it into the purely decorative. Old street signs, antique stovetop burners, castoff manhole covers, a well-weathered garden trowel, old magazines and record covers--one person's castoff/thrift-store donation is another person's shabby chic to install above that precious sofa found at that very cute little secondhand store around the corner from the coffee shop and sex-positive marital aids shop. Such is the process of object commodification: turning meaningful things into inert objects.

Just don't tell that to Bill Schmidt. The director of the post-baccalaureate program at the Maryland Institute College of Art has the audacity to allow his hanging sculptures to vibrate with possibilities, waiting to become whatever they may be. Lining the back wall of the Paperwork Gallery--the newish space opened last December by local artists Dana Reifler and Cara Ober on the first floor of East Preston Street's Midtown Yoga Center--hang a small array of Schmidt's sculptures-qua-contraptions. These five pieces--combinations of wood, found objects, paint, and exquisite technique--are all tall and thin, starting at about eye level and extending toward the floor. Bluntly named--the tusklike "Not for Nothing," the totemic "Zig-Zag Wanderer," the cagelike "Pendule"--and yet quite sensually constructed, the pieces read like curious contradictions. Think some combination of extravagant Shaker furniture and highly specialized primitive tool. They start to feel like something you might find hanging on the wall of a veteran Nova Scotia seaman, a beautiful instrument intended for pragmatically deadly survival, or something busted out after a catch in which to smoke celebratory tobacco.

These are the sorts of works for which Schmidt is best known. The majority of the works on view in Outside of Time, though, are intimate abstract paintings completed over the past few years, following a residency in Rochefort-en-Terre in the Brittany region of France that, reportedly, rekindled his interest in painting. The nine paintings exhibited are all tight compositions, approximately the size of a printed page, and are rendered in gouache and colored pencil on paper. The colors lean toward the warmer hues (yellows, reds, and their orange progeny), and even when Schmidt turns to the blues, greens, and their aqua splashes, it's more the airy effect of the sky rather than the enigmatic depth of the opaque sea.

Schmidt's abstract vocabulary here is what's disarming. Wily, witty, squishy, biomorphic, so precise in its ordered disarray, it feels a little too endearingly nostalgic, like the not so distant past's imagination of the far-off future. Think 1940s and '50s advertising, graphic design, and marquee lights: rods that end in bulbous globes, sharp angles that jut into elegantly smooth curves, regular polygons whose curves are bent into stiff acute angles and become silhouettes of Flash Gordon comic-strip spaceships, soft bubblelike circles forming chains like a cocktail glass' trail across Formica. Throughout, Schmidt's hand is assuredly expert, and his life experience--titles that allude to player-piano composer Conlon Nancarrow or display his subtle wit, such as "Piecemeal Coexistence"--is integrated into the works with austere modesty.

All of the elements are at play in Schmidt's sculptures, just in different degrees. As evidenced in his five sculptures and an assortment of found-object assemblages also on view, Schmidt's otherworldly ideas aren't sci-fi or some not-yet-possible; they seek the still-possible from the possibly forgotten. Subtle implication is more powerful a push than realized imagination in his works.

For his 1988 film Dead Ringers David Cronenberg conceived surgical instruments for "operating on mutant women," a series of formidably indelicate metal instruments whose mere suggestions of potential bodily use is more threatening than anything that the director could depict on screen. Schmidt's sculptures are similar sorts of mental potential-energy time bombs, as his found-object assemblages read like excavations from an archeological site that hint some early society required tools for crushing, cutting, and possibly even prostate stimulation.

The new paintings, though, aren't as richly kinetically charged. Their overall vibe is whimsical and effervescent, both perfectly fine attitudes for such keenly nostalgic work. Let's just not turn molehills into mountains--viz., an April 19 Roberta Smith article in The New York Times, which observed that small abstraction is "in"--as evidenced by a recent quartet of small abstraction solo shows and bulwarked by the idea of getting small being, perhaps, a form of ideological dissent against the grandiose spectacle of the large panel. Paul Klee is the name dusted off anytime "small" and "abstraction" enters the same discussion, a comparison born more of size than of content, too often ignoring the rapier sociopolitical observations Klee invested in his intimate and deceptively inviting paintings. (The ephemerally organic vocabulary of Toni LaSelle would be a better reference point for Schmidt's paintings here.) Size does matter, natch, but it doesn't define the work; paintings aren't wall-mounted tchotchkes. They do, however, look great hung on the wall.

- Bret McCabe

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Just Between Us: Drawings by Jackie Milad" Opens Thursday, May 15


Just Between Us is a solo exhibit of drawings by local artist and curator Jackie Milad.
Exhibition: May 15 - June 15, 2008
Opening Reception: Thursday, May 15 from 7-9 p.m.
The exhibit will include catalogues for sale and a catalogue essay by Jack Livingston.

“Ms. Milad's exuberant andro-fem figures mix archetypes, channeling the likes of Nefertiti, Carolee Schneemann and Courtney Love into one timeless sweetly odd and transgressive "her". They possess a fairy-tale power similar to the late works of the poet Ann Sexton.”-Excerpt from review in Peek Review, by Jack Livingston.


Jackie Milad is an artist who works with drawing, performance art and installation, and often creates projects that brings these disciplines together. Her projects explore the awkward moments shared between people.

She has exhibited internationally and nationally in such places such as The Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, Gallery 32 as part of the London Biennale, Delaware Center of Contemporary Art in Wilmington, Museum of Fine Arts in Mazatlan, Mexico and Galeria del Jovenes in Culiacan, Mexico.

In 2005 she earned her MFA from Towson University, and in 2000 she received her BFA from Tufts University and the School of Museum of Fine Arts. In 1998, Ms. Milad studied painting at the Studio Arts Center International in Florence Italy. She is currently Program Coordinator for the Union Gallery at University of Maryland, College Park. In the winter of 2007-08, Ms. Milad traveled to West Mexico to begin her research and field recordings of local whistling habits.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Urbanite Bi-Weekly Featured Artist


Bill Schmidt

After a residency in France rekindled his passion for the medium, sculptor and director of MICA's post-baccalaureate program Bill Schmidt has returned to painting. Outside of Time, his latest exhibition, showcases his found-object sculptures and a series of goauche-and-colored-pencil paintings. The exhibit runs through May 2 at Paperwork Gallery. 107 E. Preston St. Free.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Updates on Paper Airplane Juried Show

Thanks to everyone who applied.
We will be meeting with the jurors to make decisions in the next few weeks. You will be notified by email, at latest, at the end of the month, so please be patient with us. Once notified, those accepted will need to bring or send selected pieces to the gallery by June 15, ready to hang. The reception for Paper Airplane will be June 28 and the exhibit will stay up through August 31.