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Marianna Schmidt, "Untitled," 1993. mixed media with collage on paper, 29.5 x 21 cm.
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"On the Road to Lake Titicaca"
Marianna Schmidt, "On the Road to Lake Titicaca," 1974-75. lithograph on paper, 40 x 59 cm.
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Marianna Schmidt, "Exodus," 1965, etching, 75.1 x 50.8 cm.
Carnaval Photographs & Paintings, June 25 – Aug 30, 2007, Teck Gallery, SFU Harbour Centre, Vancouver
Selected Prints & Drawings, Jul 10 – Aug 26, 2007, Burnaby Art Gallery, Burnaby
Mixed Media Works 1963-2002, Jul 13 – Sept 15, 2007, Evergreen Art Centre, Coquitlam
By Ann Rosenberg
Over 100 expertly chosen works by Marianne Schmidt are hung in three concurrent shows in the Lower Mainland, and the installation of work at each venue elucidates and astounds. Together, they constitute a fitting memorial for a reclusive, eccentric artist who died at 87 in 2005. At the time, she had been virtually forgotten by the local art community, which had recognized her unusual gifts when she began her career in the mid-‘60s after enrolling in the Vancouver School of Art at age 42.
According to Robin Laurence — an executor of Schmidt’s estate and one of the curators of the retrospective — Schmidt left a legacy of “approximately 3000 works on paper, most of which have never been shown.” Only the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst in Ghent, Belgium (one of the lenders to the retrospective) owns a large body of her work. The Burnaby Art Gallery is, so far, the most avid collector of Schmidt’s prints and works on paper.
Laurence suggests in her insightful catalogue essay that it is “difficult to pin down one identifying style or period” but Schmidt’s devotion to the depiction of the “human figure” alone or in groups is consistent throughout her oeuvre. A search for her place (or home) in the world and new fuel for her aesthetic impelled her life-long need to travel outside Canada.
For this multi-venue exhibition, Schmidt’s earliest work is installed in the Burnaby Art Gallery. It shows how she displayed and transcended her influences from the beginning. Two late 60s intaglio etchings called In the Forumand Carnaval depict bizarre crowd behavior in the streets of imaginary urban settings, rendered in bird’s-eye perspective. The spindly-limbed participants, with their over-sized heads and google eyes, the tipped-up environments with the individually delineated bricks and round cobblestones, are closely modeled on Jean Dubuffet’s l950s “Art Brut”. The motifs recur in different circumstances throughout her oeuvre. Schmidt thought of these pieces as funny, not horrifying as many viewers do.
On the whole, Schmidt out-Brut’s Art Brut by going beyond Dubuffet’s belief in “savagery, instinct, mood, violence and madness,” creating images where dismembered bodies and body parts drift. Surely, not even the artist could make light of Exodus — the print which likely refers to Schmidt’s experience as a displaced person from Hungary who fled to Austria during the last months of World War ll. If the former two works substantially derive from the artist’s sardonic interpretation of Hieronymous Bosch’s “Paradise” in the Garden of Earthly Delights, Exodus is her version of Bosch’s “Hell” informed and deepened, perhaps, by knowledge of concentration camp slaughters.
The Burnaby exhibition continues with a section on Schmidt’s art in other print (or mixed) media, including the striking Pop-Art influenced 1974-5 work called On the Road to Lake Titicaca. In this lithograph, a piece of pink luggage decorated with stylized flowers is an ‘intruder’ in her black and white portrait of the barren road to the world’s highest lake, as if it were a gaudy, overdressed stranger waiting for a bus that would never come.
The photograph indicates the high level of accomplishment in the artist’s 70s- and 80s-era carnaval photos, which are featured in the Teck Gallery at SFU’s Harbour Front Gallery. It also demonstrates how she can adapt an idea based on Warhol’s silkscreened Brillo Box cartons to make a poignant statement about solitary travel.
The BAG show leaps ahead in time (chronologically) to end with two l990s examples of the type of collage-based Xerography prints that the artist continued to make until 2002. These attractive pieces have a Surrealist ‘look’. The imagery is delivered by the then- still-controversial color-copy machine. The Burnaby Art Gallery presentation concludes in the sun room with two trompe l’oeuil drawings of 1980, which include renderings of the graphs, charts, and paperwork pertaining to Schmidt’s hospital job.
The Mixed Media Works exhibition at the Evergreen Centre in Coquitlam contains more works than the other two venues and covers the greatest time frame. It starts with several 1963-5 pieces from Schmidt’s student days, then presents six more examples from the suite of ‘realistic’ drawings alluded to in the other venues, then fast-forwards to the mid ‘80s and beyond to showcase the expressionistically rendered figurative works on paper that display Schmidt’s whole-hearted embrace of the style of George Baselitz, Jean Michel Basquiat and Francis Bacon.
These painterly outpourings of her cynical, black-humored observations on human angst and emotions are as immediate as the representational drawings and Xerographs are studied. The largest and most impressive body of work in this most inclusive portion of the retrospective is the series based on maps that are often embellished with collage, scribbles, and ‘automatic’ nude self-portraits executed in the manner of Dubuffet’s Hourloupe doodles.
Viewing an untitled mixed media work from 1993, I admire Schmidt’s inventiveness and Boschian humour and regret that I saw so few examples of her art when she was alive. The central figure in it is a crone whose profile is based on the map of Eastern Canada turned on its side. She wears a snail on her head like a hat as she strides forth purposefully in a cloak that appears to have been fashioned out of a blue and white polka dot hankie. She is apparently rushing off to buy something that is ON SALE.
In all three parts of the retrospective, Schmidt exposes many aspects of herself in a fearless fashion — creating images of despair, jealousy, anger, marital dysfunction, exhibitionism and hysteria. Bill Chandler — a long-time collector of Schmidt’s art — said at the opening that he thought that in terms of dealing with sexuality and violence Marianna’s work “goes to places that Jack Shadbolt never found.”