A hinterland is a space that lies inland from the sea, beyond the edges of a river, it is out of the way, few paths lead there, few people pass through. Sandra Schmidt's works capture how such places feel, and how such feelings can be made visual though form, and colour: she constructs terrains which have centres ablaze with light and edges that flip out into pattern.
Schmidt's works are thick with texture. They seem timeless, like small vibrating snapshots of the future. They are full of exaggerated tension, interlocking plains monochrome strips of exuberant tones are locked against shards of pixillated static.
The first of Schmidt's 'Hinterland' exhibitions was held at Mary Newton Gallery in July 2006, and contained a series of her plastic beaded works. This current show includes works that have been created over an extended period, beginning with images that were produced in Germany where Schmidt grew up and lived until moving to New Zealand 5 years ago. Also included in this exhibition are her most recent work with beads, as well as and other works that adapts a similar process of time consuming and detailed assemblage - the careful fusion of many miniature parts, be they plastic or shaded, shaped pieces of wood.
Schmidt has used a variety of different materials, including found objects, such as old Formica bench tops, on which she draws, not with pencil, but with permanent marker. Since it is not possible to erase any such mark once it has been applied, these works have a dense dark feeling to them. The only way to remove a portion of the picture is to scribble a black block over it. While in some places black plains and lines recede backwards into a shallow pictorial space, in other parts of the images zig-zagging lines make the white negative space appear to explode forward. Here the lightly hatched static of the bench top becomes the form, held out for us to view on scaffolding of black marker. By layering these surfaces with angular fragments, Schmidt transforms these surfaces that were once wiped down, functional and domestic, into spooky vistas though a cluttered thicket onto crystallized planes.
Also included in the show is a three dimension installation rendering of the treacherous spaces that appear in many of Schmidt's wall hung images. The floor work "Glacier" recalls the endless spiked expanse in the painting The Sea of Ice (1824) by the German romantic painter Casper David Friedrich. By simply stacking shards of wood, gradated in cold pale colours, Schmidt creates a similar sense of how natural forms can contain drama and danger.
Schmidt has stated that she likes recycling materials that surround her in every day life. She produces her objects and images by carefully combining different materials until they form patterns. Here she has created spinning top fractals like objects from combing small wooden dolphins, themselves slices of kitsch. These twisting repeating forms spin off the wall, like flipping flower clusters. Though using mass produced elements these works have the beauty of finely crafted objects, because they are only made possible through the artist's fastidious focus and attention to detail it takes to assemble them.
The beaded works employ a new use for existing materials. The children's toy 'Hama' consists of tiny plastic beads that are placed on a spiked board and then ironed together, usually producing stock images of smiling flowers or sailboats. Schmidt uses this technique but dramatically extends the scale and moves away from any kind of cartoonist representation, ironing together vast planes of plastic.
The curved edges of these images reminiscent of portholes, like looking up through a skylight and seeing a sky a-light with the light of dawn. It is as though our normal perception, the places we can navigate through, have been momentarily sliced open; our eyes enter a terrain of confectionary colour and liquid light.
In Hinterland II Schmidt has moved away for her previous primary palette. Bright blues and molten reds have given away to more muted colours - though as glossy as ever with the synthetic gleam of plastic. We see arcs and slates of salmon, purple and sherbet yellow. These colours are built up into spaces through which light reverberates in a manner that recalls Baroque paintings, where the heavens open and rays of light fall to elicit an overall sense of awe. Schmidt has describes her images as being of a world that has just started to breath; nature is in its very early stages, things are just beginning to grow, to multiply. The forms could both be mammoth, caves, islands, icebergs miles long, whole landscapes, but they could also be perceived on a microscopic scale, as a collection of multiplying cells. Light and atmosphere are vital, in these lands where things are just beginning to unfold.
This iciness, juiciness, feeling of earthly sparkle, is intensified in the light box work, where there is interplay between the opaque and translucent beads. The light boxes heighten the effect of the beads' colours in a way that is reminiscent of stained- glass windows, and the formal floral and ice crystal symmetry of Schmidt's works add to this effect.
Schmidt creates a hand- crafted world of sensuous precision. Both her sculptural and two-dimensional work is built up of small components: line, slices of wood and plastic beads. Through time consuming processes of gluing, placing, ironing and painting she transforms Formica, plastic and kitsch cut- outs, into collections of colour and shape, all crystallized by feeling.
The spaces she depicts are ones where light seems to be settling after an upheaval and where particles stumble through gritty atmosphere. From simple materials come terrains full of opulent effects, simultaneously microscopic and grand.
Amy Howden-Chapman 2007