A sexy Santa sits as a Shiva atop a pink flamingo in the latest collection of drawings titled Blast Furnace of Civilization from Aurel Schmidt currently on display at Half Gallery in New York City. The pencil drawings and new works in painted ceramics toy with the madness of capitalism. In her usual tone of dark absurdity, the drawings beautifully balk at our contemporary penchant for aggregated deities, from our veneration of shopping habits, to our blissful romance with spirituality.
“I like to imagine the works with the feeling of ghosts—the old ghosts of colonialism and new ghosts of neocolonialism, the mutant of globalization, the perversities of our own desires for the products of those machines. Incest children. The strange mutant objects we buy, we touch, we orbit our identities around,” Schmidt tells The Creators Project.
Schmidt’s compositions elevate the disparate objects and allow the viewer to consider their intended meanings. It’s sometimes comical and sometimes perverse, but the exploration of her characters is the journey. In this set of drawings, you see a robust display of objects as symbols: a splayed chicken with a cherub head wearing Campbell's Soup Chuck Taylors, or a smoking vagrant head as the centerpiece of an elephant lamp. The illustrations all draw from the layered choices we make as consumers in our everyday lives and the choices that manufacturers make in selling this commodification to us.
Schmidt as an artist obsesses over those details. She says, “The images of the objects online, flat and bright or in stores pretending to be things they are not—in the end, the belief we have in them. I saw a decorative can in a store upstate, printed on it, in an earnest and childlike font, it read 'farm-fresh' and featured 'hand-painted' wheat and vegetable images and on the bottom was the always present sticker 'Made in Bangladesh.' I love things like that.”
In this iteration, the artist reveals her newest works in ceramics. A porcelain donkey with a cornucopia trail is both kitsch and vulgar, but in the sweetest way. The attention is on the details in the ceramic fruit offerings; a persimmon, bitten watermelon slice, and a pomegranate. There is a real wealth in the experience of peering into a donkey’s rear only to realize that you are seeing something being unloaded.
“I like the idea of making art with some form of a politicized undertone, but try to purposefully not make it heavy-handed or blunt," she says. "I want to keep the messages multidimensional, liquid so they can change for each persona and grow with the work we are living in. I try to add some humor in them too so the message can be sweetened slightly but also because the world is so fucked you can't help but laugh.”
Blast Furnace of Civilization runs through December 15th at Half Gallery in Manhattan. Learn more by clicking here.