Diana Schmertz in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Diana Schmertz

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Diana Schmertz in front of America’s Social Contract at Novado Gallery. Laser cut watercolor painting on paper, 7 panels painted front & back, 28 x 16 inches each ©2017

Diana Schmertz has always been interested in systems that people create to organize what they perceive in the world around them — based in science, religion, psychology, philosophy or politics. The artist says that no matter how cerebral a system or an idea may appear, it is always experienced through our physical senses and in order to communicate balance between reason and senses, she paints imagery of the body expressing emotional understanding juxtaposed with systems of verbal and/or mathematical reasoning. In Domestic Brutes, the women group show at Pelham Art Center Diana Schmertz shows a painting installation. Her virtual artist talk hosted by PAC is scheduled for October 8th.

AS: How do you see your work in context of Domestic Brutes feminist perspective?

DS: Both paintings exhibited in Domestic Brutes are laser cut with text from legal documents that deal with equal rights and opportunity for women, making them both political and feminist works. The piece International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was originally part of a larger public installation addressing Universal Human Rights. I researched various international agreements on human rights, eventually concentrating on ones created and enacted by the United Nations for the entire installation. This section focuses on uplifting women and stopping gender discrimination. Sadly, the United States is the only developed nation in the world that has not signed this covenant. The piece asks the viewer to engage in a conversation about where America actually stands when it comes to equal rights for women and question why our government has not agreed to be part of an international effort to end gender discrimination. Furthermore, in our own country, there is currently a battle over the Equal Rights Amendment in our court system. After 48 years the ERA has finally been ratified by 38 states in 2020. The Amendment should become an official part of the constitution, yet the Trump Administration and almost every Republican member of congress are fighting against its enactment. These matters are hardly being discussed in our country. Beyond engaging in the conversation, my hope is for these works to inspire people to maybe call their congress person or take action in some way that helps create more positive social agreements for everyone.

The second work in the exhibition, Title IX, highlights a positive social agreement we do have in America. I visually depicted the words in Title IX of the Education Acts of 1972 by showing a woman pulling up a group of girls as an expression of how education plays an integral role to the advancement of women in America. Being an educator, I believe equal access to education is the one of the greatest equalizers of humanity in any culture.

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, laser cut ink painting on paper, 87 x 32 inches – 6 panels, 29 x 16 inches each ©2019

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, close-up, laser cut ink painting on paper, 87 x 32 inches – 6 panels, 29 x 16 inches each ©2019

AS: Tell me more about the work in this show – its genesis and process.

DS: Due to the current political and social hostilities that surround us every day I have felt compelled to create work that is inclusive and stresses the importance of positive social agreements. I am focused on portraying diverse races of people elevating each other, very much opposed to individuals pushing each other down. My interest in art as social engagement and activism has become reawakened by these times and I am creating more public work.

I research public and legal documents that support ideas of egalitarianism and empowerment. I paint imagery that expresses the ideas held within these various documents. I laser cut the document text into the painting, transforming the paper into an object that is made out of words. By using two strongly contrasting techniques, handmade and machine made, the physical work reinforces the conceptual idea that sensory/emotive understanding is fundamentally connected with analytical logic. The final art pieces are objective and intuitive, mechanical and intimate. Whether the viewer chooses to focus on the “rationality” in the text or the “sensory” in the bodies each remains equally significant within the physical object itself.

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Title IX, laser cut watercolor painting on paper, 22.5×17 inches ©2018

AS: How does the work in this show relate to your other work?

DS: All of my work is an investigation of belief systems and depicts a balance between intellectual and emotional reasoning. Before the upheaval in America became so extreme, I was creating work that was less historical and focused more on broad systems in nature. For example, my series E deals with Euler’s Number, a mathematical constant that measures a precise and recurring rate of growth and decay appearing in things such as sound dissipating, to the rise and fall of the stock market.  For this series I painted imagery of contact between people with E’s number sequence laser cut into the work. E expresses an analysis of growth and decay through scientific method and observation while the images express perceptions of growth and decay through physical sensation.

From afar the group of paintings appear as a unit referencing objectivity and systematization. Intermediately, the work becomes personal, showing individual moments of contact between people. When viewing the work at an even closer range a new system appears, the number sequence E. Due to the physical constraints of our physical being we are unable to interact with the work from both perspectives in the same time and space. The work makes this condition apparent, echoing our inherent struggle to simultaneously understand relationships from both the subjective and objective, the ordered and the chaotic. This inherent human struggle is a main theme embodied in every work I have made over the past decade.

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E, laser cut watercolor paintings on paper, 8″ diameter each ©2016-7

AS: How do you hope viewers connect with your work in this show?

DS: My main objective is for people to question the social agreements they both voluntarily and unintentionally engage with in our society. At first, most viewers tend to respond to the emotion in the painted images. Upon closer view they start to see and read the text. By using text and emotional imagery I attempt to invite the viewer to take part in the conversation through whichever mode of communication they feel most comfortable.

Many of my pieces are meant to be hung in a manner that allows the viewer to walk around the entire work. Whatever position a viewer is standing in s/he can always see the person on the “Other” side. As light hits the surface of the paintings a cast shadow of the words falls on the viewer, making them one with the social agreement. I hope this helps people realize, acknowledge and understand that they are part of a larger system. I use positive social agreements to work as a connector that demonstrations what the Other may have in common and to emphasize what is encouraging in our society. This can lead to the strengthen of these agreements and work as a foundation to build upon for a more humane society.

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E,( close-ups) laser cut watercolor paintings on paper, 8″ diameter each ©2016-7

All photos courtesy of the artist

Domestic Brutes at the Pelham Art Center – Opening receptions: September 12th (in gallery with applicable rules); September 17th (virtual).

Artists: Tirtzah Bassel, Aisha Tandiwe Bell, Ashley Norwood Cooper, Maria de Los Angeles, Nancy Elsamanoudi, Fay Ku, Sharon Madanes, Lacey McKinney, Joiri Minaya, Rose Nestler, Simonette Quamina, Diana Schmertz, Alisa Sikelianos-Carter, Manju Shandler, Melissa Stern; Curated by Christina Massey and Etty Yaniv

Thanks to Audrey Putman for helping with the interview.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: artspielblog@gmail.com