The Jackdaw Magazine, Nov/Dic issue 2019, London, UK
My paintings are realistic depictions of urban landscapes. I navigate manmade spaces to discover subjects of intrigue; then I record these detailed reflections of modern life, showing crumbling pavements, broken walls, graffiti-tags, ... In these images, the stuff of daily life counts as the subject, the “something” of the picture. Ordinarily we pass these objects by. We don´t give them credence as visual subjects for art. My paintings include abandoned spaces, rubbish and decay, objects that would barely constitute proper subjects for paintings. The landscapes I paint are often on the edge of cities, normally quite unattractive. They are places that have outlived their original purpose, to leave only traces of human activity. Although I prefer to work on landscapes of my surroundings, it is not factual information about a specific location, that I am interested, but allegories and reflections of modern life.
During the twentieth century, the spectacle of the city has ceased to be a collection of images perceived by a passive observer, Baudelaire's flâneur, to become the experience of a discontented and dissatisfied postmodern subject, who feels that the city offers more experience and signs that he or she can assimilate. We live in a chaotic city, without restrictions, open to dispersion and beyond the norms. The city of signs has become a place where the illusion of global connectivity through telemediated technologies coexists with the impossibility of union and community. The post-industrial city is an environment of multiple meanings a place of continually mutant and nomadic meanings, like the vagabonding of its people in the cartography of its streets.
I work with series, or rather, with different approaches to this topic. Many of my paintings show realistic views from a seemingly human height (Bad Seeds, Ofelia, Dead End,…). Others, however, place the observer on viewing platforms, looking out over distant landscapes (Traces on the territory, Urban landscape,…). The platform is, in theses cases, so far away from the subject that we are not asked to take part in the individual experience of a place. What we are given is instead a mapping of contemporary life. We are almost looking at a toy town.
In City Shards, we experience the city as an environment of multiple and nomadic meanings, it is almost a mental image. There I superimposed pieces of images, transparencies, to underline the sense of the modern observer of being at an orchestra made out of parts or shards, that coexist, without stopping multiplying and moving.
Schmidt has exhibited widely, including the Salmagundi Club in New York, The European Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona and the Venice Biennale. She has also recently been distinguished as a Living Master at the Art Renewal Center (USA). As a winner of the Columbia Threadneedle Prize she has held a solo show in September 2019 at the Mall Galleries in London. Schmidt will feature at Wales Contemporary, Waterfront Gallery, Milford Haven, Wales, from 4 – 30 October 2019, and Mall Galleries, London, from 5 – 10 November
Txani Rodriguez, El Periódico, April 2018, Bilbao, Spain
“Street art changes the way in which we experience the city ”
The architect and painter Ana Schmidt has received in London the prestigious Columbia Threadneedle Prize 2018. The work of this artist, that is based in Bilbao, has already received international recognition, as it has been exhibited in the Salmagundi Club of New York, in (e) merge in Washington, in the Mall Galleries of London, in Art Cologne, in NordArt and in Münster, in Germany, in Venice and in the European Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona, among others. Schimdt was born in Germany, but her family moved to live in Vietnam and then to Thailand. She spent her childhood in Barcelona and there she started to paint in workshops and art programs . “I was passionate about painting and studying the great masters of painting, both classic and contemporary. I studied Architecture and started my practice. I finally I established in Bilbao . Since then I have combined the profession of architecture and artist ”.
–What does the Prize mean to you?
The Columbia Treadneedle Prize is a prestigious figurative art award, not only because of it´s important economic amount, but also because of it´s international recognition, as it is an award of the British Artists Association. Both this award and the others that I have received in the USA and Italy, they are a stimulus to continue working, paint new works and prepare the upcoming exhibition in London
–Great part of your work is a reflection of Bilbao, the panoramic Bilbao and the Bilbao, next to some areas of the Nervion River, much more personal, but also sordid. Why do such spaces like Zorrotzaurre attrac your attention?
In these paintings there are puddles, graffitis, railways ... -Although I have reflected in my paintings the metropolitan area of Bilbao, these images do not try to be realistic depictions of these areas. Although I choose my scenarios near where I live, they are reflections about the transformations of the cities, their landscapes, the interventions on the territory. My work focuses on the urban landscape and its experience. I try to rescue the so-called non-places of the urban metropolis, the forgotten and topophobic landscapes in the sense attributed by Yi Fu Tuan, the graffiti narratives, to give them a new meaning through representation. Street art changes the way we experience the city, the urban space. It causes an interruption to the commercial system of signs and codes, turning a wall or a neighborhood into a collective territory.
Carl Sagan said that, “imagination brings us to worlds that have never existed, but without imagination we cannot live. ” For generations, myths and narratives have influenced our views. Nowadays, we live in a world where narratives are built for the entertainment and marketing, not to explain our experiences. We need those myths, art ... Many of my paintings deals with stories painted on the walls,…
–You have also painted urban landscapes marked by war conflicts, why?
–Through these paintings I try to question the value of the images, their strength., their use ... their codes. One image changes its meaning completely, at the moment it is displayed in an exhibition space. A image can be beautiful, regardless of its content, depending on the composition, the color, ... it is a quality that only art has. They reflect and question the relationship between content and art. The photographs of Robert Capa or Sebastián Salgado have often dealed with death and, at the same time, are excellent compositions, even beautiful. For instance, Géricault´s Medusa, a romantic work, is a clear example of a representation of a violent situation. It seems as if in the modern era, art should only represent happiness, confusing happiness with beauty, and any other theme should remain rejected to journalism.
–You work with acrylics and large canvases...
Acrylics offer a similar result as oil, however, they do not require the use of turpentines, somewhat toxic. Acrylic products offer very versatile possibilities. As for the size, I prefer the large format for its expressiveness and strength.
-Why did you opt for realism?
Realism offers, in my opinion, unique possibilities. I like its ambiguity, it has different levels of interpretation. On one side, it is a representation of the reality itself and, on the other side, according to its content, focus, composition, environment it offers a second reading, the evocation of a thought or an emotion. There are superimposed layers of meaning in one piece. For example, Dead End, the award-winning work of the Columbia Treadneedle Prize, represents a corner of Zorrotzaurre. However, in a second reading, it reflects the city, the narratives painted on the walls, the concept of art as representation, ... I would say that even there is a third level of interpretation, if we consider the city and its representation as a metaphor of the human mind. In literature and cinema, this type of metaphors have often been used, as in the film Metropolis or the City of Glass of Paul Auster.
–How much method is behind your results? It is very difficult to distinguish if we look at a painting or a photograph?
I work with a clearly defined method, I even always use the same color palette, that is really limited. I think the scenes I paint are realistic, but they don't look like photographs. If we put the paintings besides a photograph, we would realize the difference: colors and tones are different, the image is simplified, ... Each painting implies a complete immersion in a particular environment, that I explore physically until something catches my attention. The photographs are useful to create a set of possible images on a particular subject. However, a bare copy of a photograph generally does not offer a real representation of a scene. Before deciding on a setting, there is on-site work taking notes and previous studies. In my studio I compose preliminary sketches, I study the relationships between the cold and warm tones of a scene, to select the final palette.
Anyway, I'm interested in that ambiguity that is created with that almost photographic illusionism. It is a way of questioning the nature of representation. - The detail has a special relevance in my work. How more details are included, more time the viewer will dedicate to examine it in depth. One approaches and moves away from the work involuntarily. It is as if we were trying to go forward or rewind to find the moment when the pigment becomes paint, art.
–What makes you decide to paint this or that image?
It is difficult to explain, there are images that have an evocative force and others not, due to their composition, the situation they explain, ... It is a fairly intuitive process. However, there is always a previous idea, which makes me look to specific situations and locations.
–You are also an architect, How would you like it to be the Bilbao of the future? –
Nowadays the work of an architect and urban planner is at the service of citizenship, that decides through a process of public participation the future and the urban, environmental and socio-economic strategies to follow, so our work as architects is limited. I really separate clearly both areas of activity, as an artist and an architect. As an artist I don't try to implement strategies but rather offer a reflection of the reality that surrounds us.
Anise Stevens, Acrylic Artist Magazine, Winter issue 2016, NY, USA
"Beauty admist the ruins"
For an artist focused on the nuances and fine detail of the cityscape, what could be a better foundation than the discipline of an architect or urban planner? This is the singular perspective brought to the work of artist Ana Schmidt. Self-described as a figurative painter, Schmidt’s experiences living in diverse urban settings resound throughout her work which wondrously captures the gritty essence of city life.
With a father who worked in the import-export business, Schmidt encountered frequent relocations that disrupted any continuity in her early education. While Schmidt was born in Germany, her family moved to Vietnam and then Thailand before her sixth birthday. Eventually, her parents decided to send her to Barcelona, where she lived with her uncle so that she could focus on an education, founded in both the arts and sciences.
In spite of frequent upheavals, she was encouraged by her parents to explore her aptitude for drawing and painting, which, she reveals, gave her the opportunity to “voice [her] inner feelings.” Throughout her youth, she studied with various instructors and pursued summer art programs. To augment her education, she visited museums regularly to study the masters, read up on art history, and studied instructional magazines and manuals to refine her craft.
When the time came to commit to a career path, she followed her parents’ advice and opted to major in architecture and enrolled at the acclaimed Polytechnic University of Barcelona, Spain. Courses in the principles of composition and the fundamentals of both classical and modern art and architecture became the foundation for her future pursuits in graphical expression.
After graduation, she worked for several years as an architect in Barcelona before moving to Bilbao, where today her focus is urban planning. “From an early age,” she explains, “I wanted to translate the world I had seen onto canvas.” Not only has her background in architecture afforded her with a unique perspective, but her growing awareness about the challenges that come with the development and use of land continue to inspire themes that resound so intensely throughout her paintings.
“I find inspiration from my surroundings, from the cities where I have lived,” Schmidt says. By employing an almost photorealistic approach, she deliberately seeks out seemingly surreal subjects that might otherwise be characterized as banal. The effect is to create a narrative about the human condition in contrast to our urban surroundings. The motorways, bypasses, waste transfer stations, recycling facilities and factories--the social fringe that stands on the periphery of our urban centers--are what ultimately speak to Schmidt.
This point of view comes in part from her intrigue with the School of Dusseldorf’s approach to the observation of objects once interpreted as unworthy of artistic contemplation. Human characters rarely appear in her compositions. However, man’s imprint is more than apparent within an intriguing body of work that depicts the nature of humankind’s existence as expressed in the forms of urban development, usage and wear. Ofelia, for example, acutely conveys this contradistinction. While it depicts a common landscape, a highway underpass muddied by untamed overgrowth and random debris, it also pulsates with a somber albeit liveliness.
Schmidt also draws upon Renaissance masters such as Diego Velazquez. She admits, “I am conscious of working from a rich tradition.” Velázquez’s Las Meninas, well known for questioning the paradoxical relationship between reality and representation, is evidently formative to her approach. By meditating on this widely analyzed piece before working out the specifics of a new composition, she considers more than her physical subject. Additionally, she considers what lies beyond and how obscuring certain details can imbue a sense of mystery while, at the same time, instill a variety of interpretations. This is Not Graffiti II, for example, includes enough discerning details to evoke a particular ambience. Yet, at the same time, while the composition reveals an abandoned location, viewers are left grappling about the nature of its history, use and current contribution to our environment.
Instead of working exclusively from photography, her process involves her complete emersion in a particular environ, which she physically explores until something catches her eye. While she finds photography useful for creating a bank of possible images of a particular subject, she admits its limitations: “slavishly copying a photo usually does not result in a true representation of a scene.” Before deciding on a definitive point of view, Schmidt opts to work in the field where she can take notes and compose plein air studies. This approach allows her to identify how the shapes of a particular landscape interrelate and ultimately resonate as a whole.
In the next step of her process, she returns to her studio where she spends more time with her subject to compose preliminary sketches, study the relationships between a scene’s cool and warm hues and select a final palette. She prefers to work with de-saturated colors and reserve more vivid pigments for centers of interest. (…)
Just as intriguing as her subject matter is her aptitude for achieving such realistic depictions. “I spend a considerable time on detail,” she says. “The more details I include allow my viewer more time to spend with a painting and examine its depth.” (…) Of particular note are the almost infinitesimal yet completely distinguishable dwellings that compose City.
Although she continues to work in urban planning, she is equally dedicated to her practice. Even if she is only able to get an hour or two in the studio at a time, she aims to paint daily or at the very least “catch some interesting setting [in her] surroundings or during a trip.” She knows, “gaining visibility and international exposure is a vital for a professional artist’s career” and regularly enters various juried exhibitions and competitions. Just in the 2014/15 competition, she was awarded the third award in the landscape category at the Arc Salon. Subsequently, her work was exhibited at the Salmagundi Club in New York. She is currently represented by two galleries in Germany: Nimmesgern Starnberg in Munich and Galerie Simon Nolte in Munster. For more additional information about Ana Schmidt, please visit her webpage at www.schmidtana.com.
It is always a difficult task to select just one winning work from all those entered for the Prize – but with Ana’s painting, the selectors were all struck by the macabre and melancholic beauty that she has conjured up with her extremely skilled brushwork. With this large canvas, Ana is calling on us to wake up to the increasing levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty rife in modern cities. It’s a powerful work.
Lewis McNaught, Chairman of the Selection Panel of the Columbia Treadneedle Prize and Director of Mall Galleries