Inge Schmidt - Shaping Life
A thin piece of cardboard rolled up, bent and placed on a small wooden block and hey presto! Inge Schmidt's works are something else, they surprise and defy understanding. So little has been "done" to create them and yet they have succeeded in expressing so much plasticity! Indeed, there is no doubting that this small folded work is a designed fact, a statement, perfect in shape, as are all the objects in the work group pithily described by her as "three-dimensional pieces".
Anybody coming to Inge's studio is initially magnetically attracted by this exuberant cavalcade of small, handy works, some of them only a few centimeters in height, others slightly more voluminous, spread out on large tables, wall consoles and shelves stretching right up to the ceiling. Every single one of them boasts its own unmistakable characteristics. Nothing has been left to chance. And yet most of these are only small interventions, a cautious process of moving and joining together, as a result of which things are charged with meaning. Nothing is squeezed together, nothing grafted onto anything else. All heaviness is avoided. Often enough these reinterpretations acquire something whimsical and humorous. Her way of creating relationships between things is witty and spirited and directs our eye to the boundless possibilities that are so much more fulfilling to investigate than looking for one single correct solution. This is why Schmidt's compositions should primarily be seen as suggestions - things could also be completely different - and this is why there are so many of these things, an army of interrelated tribes, groups and sub-groups with endless ramifications.
There are, for example, the fan pieces, which are always slightly reminiscent of palms, with their single supporting pillars that resemble tree trunks. Her casings, hollow bodies into which we can never really look and thus never know whether there could be something poking out of them, form a single group. Then again there are the very flat, ducked shapes which, unlike the fans and flag masts stretch out expansively in a horizontal direction. The curves of her bent cardboard pieces maintain their precarious tension by means of a thin cord; the above-mentioned bent pieces are defined by a different kind of tension and then there are other spherical bodies which lie there entirely devoid of tension of any kind. These resemble terminal points or points of rest, lazy and motionless on the supports that have been pushed underneath them. There are also all kinds of tufted, rolled and layered pieces, as well, of course, as repeated mavericks that cannot be placed in a specific category.
Looking at the work more closely allows us to delve more deeply into the enormous diversity of and differentiation between her different three-dimensional solutions, solutions which, at first glance, all appear extremely similar. In so doing, our perception opens up to the meaning of the smallest of adjustments. A few centimeters more or less, a slight deviation from the perpendicular, a little color makes for a certain focus or, by contrast, cancels out the uniformity of one element, thus focusing our attention more on the latter's shape - all these individual decisions have substantial consequences. And now we suddenly notice that we have overlooked one small element of the object described at the beginning - a thin piece of cardboard inserted between the base plate and the element placed on top of it and slightly off-kilter. It is only now that we recognize the crucial importance of these little details to the overall graphic impression.
After our eyes have become used to this puzzling picture of little "three-dimensional pieces", all of which could pass off as models for large expansive sculptures, other workgroups become apparent, further back in the studio. For instance, the cut-pieces, tall stelae of between 180 and a maximum of 220 centimeters in height, which corresponds to the standard measurements for the kind of rectangular blocks of wood that tend to get stacked up in some corner of a DIY store. Here, Schmidt has adopted a focused, vigorous approach, taken a buzz saw to the blocks of wood and was able to break down their perfectly straight, industrially standardized contours into an extremely lively irregular zigzag shape whose thinnest part is sometimes no more than barely one centimeter in thickness. There is very little keeping these from rupturing and yet they stand fast heroically on their narrow plinths which are sometimes shaped like feet.
By now at the latest it becomes clear that it is always the human body which serves as a reference point, even though there are no unequivocally figurative elements to be seen. The cut-pieces are invariably reminiscent of the kind of individuals who, despite all that fragility, stand upright and on a firm footing. Every one of the three-dimensional pieces is an observation on human sensibilities and it is this that makes them so moving. Despite their high degree of abstraction, they often give the impression that they possess a soul. Others resemble tables, chairs, stools or houses, evoking terms associated with and images like having a roof over one's head, experiencing a feeling of security, being safe, finding one's place, etc. She calls these "life issues", the kind that everybody knows and yet for them she comes up with fresh images full of poetry, images that are original in the best sense of the word.
And now the viewer's roving eye actually does discover figurative elements, renditions of heads, hands and bodies. These are also to be found in the drawings on the walls. Usually smallish pieces, one just shows a hand with six long thin fingers, in loose watercolors. In another we are talking about a sheet of music rotated around 90 degrees and with the notes now running vertically, set in motion by a half figure seen in profile and doubled up symmetrically. A large number of faces, rendered in watercolors, drawn, sketched in pastels. Also, circling ballpoint lines which converge into vegetable shapes, while the drawn tables, armchairs and chairs resemble confident portraits, despite their crooked legs of differing lengths. It now becomes apparent that the quantity of works on paper is no less comprehensive than that of statues although the majority of them are stored in the graphics cabinet, as are the approximately 300 artist's books that bear her signature.
Inge Schmidt's talent for arranging things, for creating a fascinating balance between the different elements is also visible at her exhibitions, when it comes to producing a cohesive dramaturgy from her countless works by making selections and devising groups. However, what becomes clear when visiting her studio, more than at any exhibition, is that untamable desire to organize. And in terms of materials many things come in useful for that desire. These include almost anything, sticks of all kinds and those blocks of wood from DIY stores. A scrap of cardboard, a bit of plastic film, a simple pencil line - Schmidt tends to take her inspiration from those everyday things, working with whatever happens to come to hand.
There may be different reasons for this. Turning her attention to those things that are floating around and succeeding in highlighting their own specific characteristics is one of these reasons. There is nothing which could not be used for some purpose. From a briefcase rescued from a cellar, containing steel engravings and art prints, she has made dozens of collages by cutting out appealing shapes, sticking them onto a sheet of paper and finishing them off with pencil and Indian ink. The shapes of the scraps also have their charms, however, and can be used for other works. In the end, not a single shred is left of the original drawings. You could not accuse Schmidt of being wasteful. It is the signs of wear and tear in particular that allow them to contribute their own story to the work, they offer suggestions and incidentally provide unique structures and surfaces. For this artist, who was born in 1944, sustainability and recycling have always been a matter of course.
It is the idea of being careful with resources that suggested the notion of restricting herself to a small format - if something works as a small piece it is possible to imagine it as a larger one, too, but if not, it will not become better by inflating it in desperation. She has produced vast quantities of drawings, because the latter came to her out of nowhere, insisting that she give them the attention they deserved. The more unusual the paper in terms of material and format, the more inspiration she derives from doing something with it. And then, of course, she starts drawing, using an ordinary pencil to place line next to line until the two become intertwined and interwoven, allowing new graphic structures to come into being, on this occasion in the area from which the tangled vortex erupts, producing such a stunning 3D effect.
One consequence of her immersing herself in drawing is that she experiments with different types of pens and that in the end color begins to play a part in her work. The kind of colored crayons that children use for their drawings brings a new colorfulness to this work. Delicate pastel shades burst out over the surface. They are composed of quite ordinary lines, spreading out over the sheet of paper, layer upon layer. These new colors give rise to new structures and then to entirely different aesthetics, a paradigm shift! Well into her seventies, Schmidt suddenly finds that she has plunged deeply into a type of landscape painting that appears to have been inspired by Asian culture, the kind where she views the world from above, so to speak, and from a considerable distance.
However, of course she cannot remain detached to that extent. This is vouched for by the extremely lively character that had already come to the fore in her artist's books and that now runs riot, brightening up the large-format drawings, as well. A bestiary of a special kind, funny birds, a hare, and a hedgehog, or, to put it more precisely, "false giraffes", "escaped birds", an infestation of hares", "owls sleeping all over the place" or "almost sleeping dogs". A few examples of Schmidt's skill with words which often, particularly in the artist's books, complements and expands the pictorial statements she makes. She creates her own poetic form of expression, one with a particularly great associative potential and the kind of onomatopoeic sensitivity that demonstrates her feel for the comical friction between things on a linguistic level - "padded blue", "yellow misery", "cloudy today", "scoundrel", "favorite", "dirty little book", "restrained flirtation" etc.
Working in sequences, a method particularly in evidence in her artist's books, Leporello booklets and portfolios, is something with an immediate appeal to this artist, because it allows her to freely evolve all kinds of variations in such a way that the consistency of her approach becomes apparent to the viewer, too. It starts with the moment of momentum, a notion or perhaps a feeling about what direction things might take and then the journey begins. She plays around with an idea, as if time and space could be stretched out indefinitely. This idea fans out, playfully making all manner of twists and turns, assuming concrete shape in her "sculptural pieces", in drawings and in that hybrid form that is the artist's book which brings drawing and sculpture together. However, the forcefulness with which Schmidt's creations, made by combining the simplest of things, breaks cover, but not from a bold desire to take control of the situation. What we see here is the courage, sometimes cheerful, sometimes tragic, to assert herself in total awareness of her own vulnerability.