Shannon Schmidt is an artist and writer, who graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with a M.F.A. in Material Studies and Writing. She lives in the Bay Area and teaches Visual Arts at UC Berkeley Extension. Her mixed-media installations, paintings, drawings, and sculptures have appeared at stARTup San Francisco, LA & Chicago, SOMArts Cultural Center, Spark Arts, O’Hanlon Center for the Arts, Slow, Helen Day Art Center, Spoke, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (MMCA), Sullivan Galleries, and other venues. Her poems have appeared in Requited Journal, exhibition catalogues, and as audio recordings and live performances. Shannon showed her art during Castro/Mission's Fall Open Studios in 2016.
(Interviewed by Wolfram Alderson, on behalf of Spark Arts, San Francisco)
At what moment did you realize you are an Artist?
I think that I realized that I was an artist in college. There was a moment when I was showing my paintings to some friends of mine, and it was like they couldn't believe that my brain worked the way that it did: that I could imagine something and then create it.
Was there someone in your life who provided special encouragement for you to be an artist? If so, who was that?
Yes, from an early age my mom always encouraged me to develop my artistic talents. However, over the years, I had many teachers that also helped to foster a belief in my abilities.
Who and what are your most important artistic influences?
Oh, that's a hard question. I am constantly influenced by the world around me. Gego, Mike Kelley, Robert Rauschenberg, Sarah Sze, and Ann Hamilton are among some of the artists who have influenced my work.
What attracted you to showing your work in a community gallery space like Spark Arts?
I liked their mission statement and how they supported open studios. I also liked that they were located in the Castro district and their support of the LGBTQ community.
What medium(s) do you work in?
I mainly paint, draw, and create sculptural installations. I use all sorts of materials, depending on what I want to communicate.
Why do you like to work in these mediums?
I believe that different materials produce different results and communicate differently. Therefore, I try not to limit myself to one medium or way of working.
Describe your body of work.
I have several different bodies of work. They are all fairly abstract and poetic. Each body of work focuses on creating a physical and psychological presence with specifically selected materials.
What is the zeitgeist or central theme or ideas behind your work?
My work is an amalgamation of existential poetics fused with art history, current events, environments and personal narratives. Always combining form and concept, the carriage of ideas arrive in colors, lines, words, objects and space.
What can you say about being an artist in the world today?
I think it's pretty tough to be an artist in the world today, especially if you are trying to make a living as a practicing artist. There are many galleries and people that take advantage of emerging artists, and unfortunately, I have found that artists need to be careful about whom they trust with their work.
Do you see yourself and your work in any particular social, cultural, or political context?
Honestly, I think that anyone can enjoy my work -- if they appreciate abstraction. However, as a female artist and a feminist, I feel that socially, culturally and politically my work tends to communicate some of my feminist views through my choice of materials, the forms that I create and the titles that I select.
In the current highly polarized and unstable political climate, do see any special role for the artist? ...or is simply making art - making relevance, or does relevance or context even matter to you - e.g., art is what it is and doesn’t interpretation or context?
I believe that artists are in the role of social critics on some level. I don't think that every piece or every artist abides by this or accepts this role, but I think that many of us embrace this challenge when we can.
Spark Arts hosts many artists who are coming out or revealing their work at an early or critical stage in their career. What can you say to artists who are struggling with idea of even being an artist or moving their art into a public domain?
I would say that they should start somewhere -- even if they start small in terms taking a class or getting feedback on their work.
What can you say to young people who are just beginning to explore their creativity, but might be lacking encouragement or confidence to take it to another level, to pursue a life as an artist?
Finding a mentor or a group of other artists is a good start to find confidence, encouragement and ways to explore.
Shannon D. Schmidt is an interdisciplinary artist and writer. Formerly based in Chicago, Schmidt now resides in the Bay Area. She has exhibited work at SOMArts Cultural Center with Art Span, stARTup Art Fair San Francisco, stARTup Art Fair Chicago and Los Angeles Alumni Lounge, Spark Arts Gallery, Paolo Mejia Gallery, the O’ Hanlon Center for the Arts, slow, The Helen Day Art Center, Spoke, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (MMCA), the Sullivan Galleries, 65 G R A N D, and other venues.
Schmidt’s poems and art reviews have appeared in: Exposed, Requited, Cairo On the Length, Text Off the Page 2006 – 2009, Art Talk Chicago, and Chicago Art Magazine. Shannon received her Dual Master of Fine Arts in Material Studies and Writing (2009) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.