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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Artist profile: Jay Schmidt

You can’t merely stand back and observe Jay Schmidt’s enormous paintings. You are engulfed by them, swaddled in colors, bombarded with madness, with the obsessiveness of modern-day consumerism, commercialism, and war-mongering—all spiraling beyond sanity like a tornado of society. It is this kind of experience, this topsy-turvy urgency, that gets beneath your skin and drains the breath from your body.

“I see the world as a runaway train,” Schmidt says. “Nobody’s controlling it anymore. It’s gone off on its own to this fatal end.”

In some ways, "Finish Line" (photo, below), a nineteen-foot, multiple-panel, full-color painting depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, feels like Picasso’s "Guernica." The horrors of war are spoken loudly, yes, but "Finish Line" goes a step further, adding dark humor. For example, the skeleton-head joystick in the palm of Darth Vader says, “LMAO” (text message shorthand for “laughing my ass off”). With a simple ideation Schmidt both comments on a text-crazed world and the absurdness of the money-slathered American war-machine that keeps the world spinning off-axis.

“"Finish Line" expresses the peak we’ve reached, financially, environmentally, energy-wise, our obsession with Facebook and sports, which is a tragedy in our university system,” he says. “What I see is that it’s all a party.”

And that’s why his work is often colorful, relying at times on the use of spray paint and day-glow hues.

All of Schmidt’s work, but especially his recent multi-canvas efforst need careful attention. Every image, every color choice, is deliberate and full of symbolism. For example, his neon snowman freaking out symbolizes global warming.

“It’s apocalyptic insanity,” Schmidt says. “In all my work, that’s the essence of it.”

Outside of his studio and standing over the garden are totems, bigger-than-life chainsaw sculptures like figurative and a three-dimensional versions of his paintings. Walking between them you feel small, not just because of their grand scale, but because the features are outspoken, and again the symbolism takes over the conversation. These pieces will not be ignored.

“I’ve always done sculpture and painting,” Schmidt says. “These all came from single logs, and because it’s a log, it’s not precious. It’ll start cracking and splitting as it dries. The chainsaw leaves its own raw markings.”

The rawness is very important to Schmidt, as is the idea of leaving the artist’s mark on the work. It adds a human quality. These pieces speak to the state of the artworld and to those seemingly “factory-made” works that convey artistic sterility.

Inside the studio, Schmidt pulls out several small, black and white paintings and begins to tile them together on the floor. This is part of his ongoing series of paintings he calls “Free Art School,” created with fellow artist David Dunlap.

“We conceptualized the Free Art School, using 'free art' as a verb,” Schmidt says. “We started making these little paintings, first with a sort of flag. It was a joke to start with and we looked into political things. Each painting just needs to be black and white. When there’s time I pull them out and start painting.”

At last count, Free Art School consisted of 250 paintings.

Locally, the idea of Free Art School branched out to the Cottonwood Club, where it took on another layer of meaning. It’s a night where local artists come together to celebrate and work on their art. It’s been a few years since Schmidt taught at MSU, and now he feels his painting life is so much richer that he’s free to paint what he wants, when he wants, and that he's able to collaborate with other artists on important work.

In a recent show at the Missoula Art Museum, Schmidt created paintings made with the same kind of multi-panel construction he used in Finish Line.

“I always felt confined by a single rectangle,” he says, “So I kept adding more panels.”

Schmidt’s paintings express the intense intellectual struggle of living in this world. At the heart of his paintings is a vibrant stream of consciousness embroidered with the immediacy of graffiti. His work is a non-stop whipping of our external political system pared with the desperate tidings of a future that may not come.

Tucked into a back corner of the room is a box of ceramic pipes, bringing to mind Magrite’s "This is Not a Pipe." Although they are clay sculptures of pipes, they are, more importantly, three-dimensional renderings of the pipes in the drawings on the wall. The drawings are collaborations with artist Jessie Albrecht in conjunction with the art movement Paintallica, a group of artists who work together on site-specific installations using imagery and tools that reflect their working-class, rural American roots.

“It’s like I’d been waiting my whole life for Paintallica to show up,” Schmidt says (photo of Schmidt, right). It fits with his flexible style and his evolving artistic life. “I’m not sure what’s on the horizon for me. And that’s okay.”  -TBM

Michele Corriel, a frequent contributor to the Magpie, has the broad range of her work well represented at

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