Briefly describe the work you do.
I construct immersive installations and cut paper works which serve as allegories of survival within hostile yet appealing environments. Among treacherous environments, certain survival behaviors are necessary in order to navigate the hazardous landscape. My works divulge into the aftereffects of toxic people and elements in our surroundings as well as destructive human behaviors such as deceit, manipulation, envy, anger, and resentment which can be self-poisoning. My work serves as a warning and as an antidote to the venom spread by wrongdoers who use appealing sweetness to lure and victimize their prey. As the saying goes, ‘you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.’
For the past year, I have been researching poisonous plants native to North America, and have become bewitched by their power, beauty, link to cosmetics, illegal drugs, and medicines as well as witchcraft and Greek mythology. My most recent show, my MFA thesis exhibition, was a massive installation in which the viewer had to maneuver around a charming yet strange garden of such poisonous plants— beautiful on the surface yet dangerous if approached too closely. The work serves as a reminder to keep such dangers, both physical and metaphorical, at bay.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I knew I wanted to be an artist in one capacity or another since I was six years old, spending hours on end working in the basement that functioned as my studio in my parents’ house. From elementary school through high school, I loved everything and anything that had to do with art—I remember impressing my peers and teachers in middle school with drawings I would make on the chalkboards. I participated in many art shows and doing so fostered my interest in the arts. I entered the Art Education program at NIU, and realized my true calling as an artist and educator. My past experiences in theater and fashion have informed my current art practice; theatricality, fashion, sewing, set construction and installation, character design—everything interweaves in odd and unexpected ways.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio practice often begins with writing and researching. I have sketchbooks full of very little drawing, but writing instead. Putting thoughts into words helps me visualize concepts, giving me the rules and structure that I need when working in the physical realm. Reading books, online articles, and looking at artists of a similar vein guides my ‘pre-studio’ work, inspiring a flow of ideas. Since I have been in graduate school the past three years, it has felt like a luxury to have a great amount of independent studio time—when I was working post-undergrad as an art instructor, studio time was little to none. Therefore, any time during grad school when I wasn’t in class or teaching, I went to my studio for solid chunks at a time. I often lost track of time and felt like the day went by way too quickly!
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Entering the teaching profession has prepared me for the responsibilities of working as a professional teacher and artist. I never envisioned that I would one day become a teacher or professional artist, nor that I would enter graduate school and teach digital design (when I didn’t even have much experience in Adobe Illustrator). My experiences as an art teacher taught me that we play multiple roles: leader, disciplinarian, advisor, cafeteria monitor, comedian, philosopher, entrepreneur, etc. To be an artist or professional of any kind requires a lot of skills other than making art—organization, self-promotion, researching, writing, budgeting, resourcefulness, and flexible thinking. An artist or creative person’s life is full of surprises, twists, and turns.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
For the past three years in graduate school, my class/teaching/work schedule has dictated when I get to go to the studio—luckily, I have had most afternoons and evenings free, so I have had the luxury of spending a great deal of time in the studio during the day. Strangely, I am a morning person and not a night owl anymore. I work in an office or teach in the mornings, and usually around noon or four p.m. I head to the studio for the rest of the day or evening. For the past six months of working on my MFA thesis show, I spent almost every single afternoon and stayed until eleven or midnight most nights. On average, I spend about five or six hours per day in the studio. To stay on a schedule, I think of the studio as a ‘job’ albeit a really enjoyable one —I try to put in at least thirty hours a week. I was lucky to have an absolutely huge studio in grad school so I wanted to take advantage of the space as much as possible, especially since it was rent-free!
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My interests are varied and I like to dabble in many mediums, including sculpture, paper-cutting, puppetry, stop-motion animation, costumes, installation, ceramics, fibers, among other things…so I feel my work is in a constant state of flux. I almost think I have a form of artistic ADD, since I get bored with one thing pretty easily, but I find ways of tying disparate things together. Entering grad school, I had a very random portfolio of experimental stuff, such as altered teddy bears and resin sculptures. Through trial and error, I narrowed my work to the current collective of art I’m working on, and see it going forward into interesting directions in the future. I recommend artists keep making things, no matter how terrible or strange, and then make ten more.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
A great deal of things outside of “art” inspire the work I do—folklore, myths, magick, spirituality, chemistry, medicine, detoxing, poisonous plants and animals, toxins in our bodies, souls, and environments, Netflix documentaries about food and the history of narcotics, stop-motion, animation, the 1960s, Michel Gondry, William Blake poetry, Snow White, Allison Schulnik, Nathalie Djurberg, Hayley Morris, Elsa Mora, Bruce Bickford, Jim Henson, Yayoi Kusama, Kako Ueda, Lilli Carre, my friend Jessie Brugger, Chiaozza, Danielle Peters, the forest in moonlight, the desert at dusk, modest materials, cheap things, transformations, dioramas at the Field Museum, movies before the CGI takeover, shadowboxes, secretes, mysteries, human behavior, Guillermo del Toro, theatrical lighting, window store displays, psychology, Simon Doonan, thrift stores, even (gasp!) Pinterest. I think many sources should inform our art practice; how we process things we are exposed to everyday is where I think intriguing art comes from.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Absolutely. I think growing up, I had many dreams and pursuits in mind and have tinkered with the idea of multiple avenues of expression. During my young school years, in addition to art I was also deeply invested in my schools’ Theatre programs, where I began designing costumes for productions starting in middle school. In high school, I was the main costume designer for four stage shows, and that was the catalyst for me to enter fashion design school to become a fashion designer. After a semester at a small private school and showing work in a few runway shows, I realized that as much as I loved fashion, a career (other than retail management) as a designer was not in the cards. I still love fashion of course though, and have started incorporating costumes into my art practice—I think adding a performance aspect to my work would be exciting to embark upon. Since I was very young, I have also had a deep love for stop-motion animation throughout the years, as I grew up watching such films and made several of my own in my adolescence. One of my animated films was even chosen for a television show on HBO, which to this day has been one of my most favorite and proud accomplishments. My work reflects my interest in the medium, as many of my sculptures are intended as ‘puppets’ which can be posed and activated through the process of animation.
Schmidt is a recent graduate of the MFA program from Northern Illinois University (2015) and also holds a Bachelors of Science in Art Education from Northern Illinois University (2010). She has shown her work at the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago as well as the Lacuna Artist Lofts and Studios, the Silver Room in Wicker Park, and various galleries in the DeKalb area. As a former fashion student, her work has been featured in fashion shows at the Victor Hotel in Chicago and Heat Nightclub in Schaumburg, where her designs walked the runway with Forever 21, Evil Kitty, and independent Chicago designers. With a background in education, she has taught the visual arts in various capacities to students of all ages throughout the Chicagoland area.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.