A Visit With Linda Schmidt

By Catherine Kirkpatrick

All Photos by Catherine Kirkpatrick

Just as it is hard to look at certain Matisse paintings and not feel the radiant sun of the Cote d’Azur, it is hard to see a piece by Linda Schmidt and not imagine a beautiful light-filled space. Recently she invited me to her studio that looks out over the low industrial rooftops of Bushwick, and seems, even on overcast days to be bright and filled with serenity.

Linda Schmidt working on a canvas

Schmidt has an M.A. and M.F.A. in painting and drawing from the University of Iowa, and works on canvas and Mylar. These paintings, she said, “come out of my life,” each session “kind of a sliver of where I am that day.” She works intuitively yet with patience, willing to “ruin them a hundred times,” in order to open up interior space, and weave together the various colors and forms till they come together in a way that makes sense.

Paintings in progress

Schmidt’s works on canvas seem brighter, the ones on Mylar a bit darker, with a more opaque yet strangely fragile feel. All explore lines and shapes that begin as gestural elements, then evolve and interact to form complex systems of mapping, measurement, even games.

A work on Mylar

In 2017, Schmidt was invited into a show called Chance where artists were asked to work outside their usual medium. She hesitated. She was involved in a residency, not sure whether she wanted to take time off from painting. But she bought ten yards of silk gauze, wrapped it around some very large strainers, and began to experiment with dye. It didn’t go as planned. She worked for weeks, spent too much time on the project, wondered if she would be able to produce anything at all. Then she saw the Agnes Martin show at the Guggenheim Museum and was inspired to try something simpler.

A fabric piece in progress

She went to a fabric store in Lodi, New Jersey and bought translucent silk in pastel shades. She played with directionality, decided on vertical, and began to think in terms of layers and transparency. Suddenly the project began to flow.

Pieces in various stages of development

The skills for this work were honed long ago when Schmidt was growing up in a liberal Mennonite community in Kansas. She began to sew at the age of three, creating clothes for Barbie dolls, then herself. In the 1970s, as a “back to the Prairie” movement picked up steam, she began making quilts with her mother, who suggested she might try a banner for the church. But Schmidt didn’t have any ideas, so declined.

Panels 22+18+17+19  by Linda Schmidt

Sometimes ideas evolve in their time in their own way. This special body of work is an extension of Schmidt’s painting, but with the added dimensions of transparency and movement. The various layers, which she swaps out and adjusts till finally satisfied, sway, breathe, and almost seem alive–part of the natural world. They speak of shifting light and changing times of day; they invite us to imagine new spaces and call to mind other works of art.

Linda Schmidt in her studio

Linda Schmidt will have work in Trill Matrix, a group exhibit that runs from December 7 – January 19 at the Abrazo Interno Gallery in the Clemente Center, 107 Suffolk Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan. In May 2019, she will be part of a two-person show at the Readywipe Gallery in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

She will also be participating in the upcoming Bushwick Open Studios September 29 – 30, 2018.

Catherine Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer based in New York. She wrote the introductions to Meryl Meisler’s two books, and is currently working on an oral history about recent changes in photography.