Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Interview: Jenny Schmid

Curse of the Older Man, from the series The Downfall of Young Girls. Lithograph, 22 x 30"

Jenny Schmid is an artist and master printmaker working out of Minneapolis, where she is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and runs Bikini Press International, “the tripped-out print studio of her dreams.” It is from this studio where she produces her prints and plots her performances. Her work is informed by many diverse sources such as comics, rock music, feminist theory, illustration, Japanese woodcuts, medieval engravings and the art of Pieter Bruegel. Schmid deftly mixes these sources with her own signature aesthetics, comprised of a deceptive and improbable mix of cute and dangerous, rosy and troubled. In her intricate tableaux, big-headed characters that barely fit the scenic space of the paper have existential dilemmas while multiple stories unfold in relation to them. Schmid’s works are often informed by gender issues and address social concerns with a joyous, ironic detachment, ripe with humor and satire. In recent years she has started ongoing collaborations with other artists and musicians, animating her drawings in live performances conducted in public spaces.
This interview was done via email.

J. Roca.

The guys at Cannonball Press have stated that you were saved from an oppressive suburbia at 16 by printmaking. Jokes aside, can you expand on the central role of printmaking in your work and the possibilities it enabled in terms of accessibility and dissemination?

Printmaking is a place where I can use both my logical abilities and creative mind. The medium offers a lifetime challenge and as my skills evolve, the technical and aesthetic problems that I set up for myself demand more and more patience and focus. I get addicted to the feeling of total concentration as if it were a drug. I am attracted to how it demands an ability to work through complicated processes, but that you also have to pay close attention and be able to respond to what is happening in the moment, not just follow a rote set of instructions.

That said, I don't like the idea that the medium is the first thing I think of- I just honestly think that for my work, the medium offers me the best expression of my ideas in its ability to reference history, be direct and graphic and have an affinity with contemporary comics. I love the graphic image and have since I was very young. I also dig the tradition of satire in the history of printmaking, of inserting a sneaky jab into what seems like on the surface to be something simply funny.

Floating World, from the series The Downfall of Young Girls. Lithograph and ink-jet chine collé, 22 x 30"

By working in multiples (and sometimes making t-shirts, buttons, etc.) I create work that is more affordable and gets out into the world. I am flattered to be part of the community that Cannonball Press has created where young people can afford some of my work because, after all, they are my main inspiration and subject matter. Teens tend to really respond to my work too, and have asked me some of the best questions! Less obvious might be the possibilities embodied in my current explorations into vector drawings that can easily scale and translate into handmade prints, live projections and animations. I see a lot of democratic potential in this translation and my work in Philagrafika will reflect this new research.

The Charmer, from the series The Sleazy People. Lithograph, 11 x 15"

The live projections you do in collaboration with Ali Momeni and the flash animations you do with Patrick Holbrook are both very complex, each using different media like drawing, computer software, and music. Some of these drawings have, in turn, been blown up and made into linocuts. You seem to oscillate between traditional methods and cutting-edge technology, with various media mutually informing each other. Your large print at The Soap Factory can be read as a storyboard for a complex series of histories. Have you considered developing more narrative short films based on this or other prints?

At this point, I am feeling a little restrained by linear narrative and wanting to find more associative, subconscious links between events and characters to give the work more magnitude. That is why I recently turned to the panorama format for The Wild People and Fountain of Youth and the third in the series of digital and lithography prints, Animalandia. I wanted the panorama to be read in a narrative way AND simultaneously and I liked how the large format inspired both a linear and whole picture viewing of the pieces. But I did see the use of digital and drawn as related to and potentially becoming animations.

Fountain of Youth (2008). Lithograph and archival inkjet, 26 x 90"

The first animation I did with Patrick Holbrook, Minneapolis has a strong narrative and meaning- the corruption of the iconic teenage girl. I wanted to give a very direct, if absurd, explanation as to why my girls' heads are so big. Patrick did all of the animating in that project, as I was unfamiliar with Flash at that time, and Dave Schroeder did the sounds and music. I was using the tablet pen to draw into PhotoShop and learning the trickery of this indirect drawing tool, where you are looking at the screen and drawing on a tablet. This was my first collaboration and it pointed me in some fresh directions. Patrick is a unique person in that he has an interest in technology but such a funny and inventive approach to narrative, where it all has complex meaning but it would never be something you could figure out on the surface. We have these great brainstorming sessions where we make lists of themes rather than making a storyboard. Patrick just says stuff like "interspecies communication" and we laugh hysterically but then it works its way into the project in ways that are surprising.

Video stills from Utopia: In Progress. digital animation.

For the second project, Utopia: In Progress (2007) we tried to free up the narrative and I think, in some ways, it is successfully confusing. For this project, I started drawing directly into Flash and was able to have some involvement in the technology. Patrick is also such a good teacher and I was also working with a graduate student printmaker, Nicholas Conbere, to figure out how Flash would work for us and consider the relationship of printmaking with animation.

I love learning new techniques and animation seemed like such a natural direction for my cartoon-influenced work. I also like thinking how the image can travel and be manifested through different media- sometimes scanning, resizing, copying, hand-tracing, photo-exposing, hand-printing, etc. to move through the full range of technologies from every era. The computer and ink-jet printer and I have grown up and developed together and the people from my generation using digital technology for creative purposes come from an era where we had to teach ourselves or each other. I like to call myself an outsider animator, as my process is ridiculously slow and probably more invested in drawing than animating. The tablet pen has allowed me to free up my drawing style a bit, as editing is so much easier than when dealing with pencil and eraser. I even format my etching compositions by resizing and positioning scanned drawings in the computer and printing them out and then transferring them to the plate with soft ground- kind of a sacrilegious marriage that is a mixture of New World efficiency and Old World labor.

The Eyes and Ears and The Truth Itself: No People Allowed

My live animation performances with Ali Momeni and Minneapolis Art on Wheels have been exciting and challenging. Its invigorating to experiment with someone who is on the forefront of creative technology but who still appreciates drawing and manual animations. Projecting outside to a sometimes unsuspecting audience and working live with a loose narrative as in Battle Scene puts a spin on the sense of control I often have in printmaking. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity and I hope to continue to work with Ali and MAW.

Jenny Schmid and Ali Momeni performing The Eyes and Ears and The Truth Itself: No People Allowed

The Pathetic end of Machismo. Lithograph, 15 x 20"

Young women are often portrayed in your work. Does your work embody a sort of tongue-in-cheek feminist aesthetic?

I have a background and interest in politics and do a lot of research on feminism as gender liberation. I feel strongly that individuals should be able to define themselves and not be oppressed by gender expectations and that is how I define feminism. I have no idea why some people think feminism is some kind of dirty word- feminists invented free love, which is essentially the idea that you get to love who you want and be with who you love. Feminists invented sex for fun by advocating for birth control. And I love working with young people and seeing how they creatively resist mainstream gender expectations.

Teen Boy Cataclysm, from the series The Teens. Lithograph, 13 x 19"

In my more recent work, I have actually been portraying a lot of boys and they are often lounging around, reading or otherwise functioning as the object of the female gaze. I like flipping traditional roles and also have been portraying girls as skateboarders, drummers, or pirates. I love people who are willing to be themselves and fly their freak flag no matter what, and I am on the lookout for them in my daily life. I also enjoy how humorous images can coax a viewer into the work and maybe into a discussion that they would otherwise shy away from. My most popular print to date has been The Pathetic End of Machismo which employs a style not unlike a turn of the century political cartoon aesthetic to address a future moment of triumph!

Rock Dove; Buffalo Girl's Revenge. Lithograph, 15 x 20"


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Otralola said...

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