Hans Schmitt-Matzen | Interview and Studio Visit

It is always a shock to see how everything comes together when installing a show. How do you feel now that everything is up at DLG?

HSM: It feels like an accomplishment.  The artwork in this show embarks on a bit of a new path for me and that is exciting. I am using new materials and letting the concepts guide the material choices. The show feels like it is communicating the essence of what I intended and it has arrived at something meaningful.

You recently had a show titled The Embodied Line at DLG Memphis. How do you feel that show compares with this one, The Leviathan?

HSM: The Leviathan is definitely a continuation of the ideas that I was considering when I completed The Embodied Line exhibition.  The addition of the wall sculptures in The Leviathan show really provides an interesting counterpoint to the neon artworks and gives the installation a different feel.  I read the sculptures almost as though they were relics from an ancient time. They remind me of stone ciphers meant to decode some enduring message.  Or like objects attempting to maintain the impossible dream of permanence.  On the other hand, the neon artworks are these non-objects.  They are purely harnesses for light, and light is the most fleeting and ephemeral material that we know.

I know that your son’s drawings inspire many of the forms in your work. How do you begin to choose which shapes and lines to emulate? Do you find yourself wanting to edit them slightly before translating them into the grander medium of wood or neon?

HSM: The source drawings that inspired all of the objects in this show were derived from several different methods. Sometimes the final artworks are fairly direct translations of the marks my young son’s made and typically I do not edit those marks.  However, many of the finaI artworks are based on source drawings that I made myself and sometimes I tweak those. While I was making the drawings I would just allow a sense of unrestricted play to flow through me in a way that felt compatible with how my children draw. Often I would draw blindly while conjuring some memory of my childhood obsessions. I made hundreds of these drawings over a period of weeks and I always completed the drawing in less than one minute.  Eventually, I began sifting through these drawings and selecting the ones that seemed the most intriguing to me.  Once I had curated a pile of drawings, it became clear to me that certain shapes just read to our minds as forms that ought to signify meaning.  I think the meanings are connected to imagining how our bodies might feel if we were physically creating the marks we are taking in with our eyes. Our bodies are always the mediums through which we understand the world. Because the physiology of our bodies are really so similar there can be a shared experiential metaphor within the forms.

Tell me about the titles of your pieces in this show. What about these objects leads you to the labels you give them?

HSM: Often the titles are indications of some of the ideas I found myself considering when I looked at the finished product.  Every title was determined after the artwork had been completed. It seemed appropriate for many of the titles to reference mysterious bodies associated with the sea. The sea is a metaphor for the unknown. In many ways, these works are about reaching into the depths consciousness.

In your statement you talk about this work in relationship to a search for meaning in innate languages of marks. Do you associate any specific meanings with the shapes and lines in this body of work?

HSM: My main criterion for selecting the forms in this series was that the form was simultaneously readable as a signifier and yet unreadable. Each shape seemed to possess a sense of agency and mystery. I found myself assigning each one a multiplicity of meanings as they were being developed in the studio.  In the end they seem very specific but also undetermined.

The body of work in Leviathan is very diverse in terms of process. It must be a very different experience to plan out the technical details of a neon versus the physical labor of cutting through a wood panel to create a wall sculpture. Is there a process that you find more rewarding or enjoy more? 

HSMI have found that my artworks require a balance of planning and play in order for me to be pleased with the final results. I think that I find pleasure in both parts of that process for completely different reasons.  The planning is enjoyable because it provides me with the delusional sensation of being in total control.  Yet, the play part is often more exciting because it so full of potential and I am unsure of the path an object is following.  I find that I make a lot of small test sample works as a way of bringing structure to the play and working out problems before I approach the really large art objects.

You have worked at the Frist Center here in Nashville for some time now. How does working in the arts effect your own practice?

HSM: Working at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts has been an incredible source of inspiration for me over the years.  I am grateful for each day I spend there and I regularly encounter experiences that enter my studio practiceI consistently find myself moved by objects in the galleries. It helps me to locate myself within a larger historical context.

What is next for you in the studio? Any new projects brewing?

HSM: There are some smaller unfinished wall sculptures on my table now that I am looking forward to playing with.  The shapes were not compatible with the ones hanging in The Leviathan show, but I am excited about how those may be realized.  They are likely to be a lot more colorful. I do not try to completely plan things out at the beginning.  It works better for me to start when I have a good idea of what I am looking for and leave room for me to make some decisions at the end. I am also playing with some sculptures that would not attach to the wall but would be viewed on a pedestal in the round. I have some sketches for some more traditional canvas paintings too that feel nice.  I expect that I will be including those artworks in a solo show I am working towards at Sewanee, The University of the South.


Schmitt-Matzen’s piece for the “20 Collaborations” project at The Nashville Public Library. “The Repetition”, oil on linen, sculpture compound, foam, plywood, aluminum, 2016




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