Artists & Galleries

Bastienne Schmidt’s ‘Topography of Quiet’ Pays Homage to Simple Truths

Bridgehampton artist Bastienne Schmidt makes a lovely cup of coffee. The dark espresso, the foamy milk, the shaved chocolate adornment: it’s inspired. And this is the way she lives. From the way she makes her coffee to the way the light pours into her home, Schmidt seems to live in a work of art.

The relationship goes both ways. While her life imitates art, her art also imitates life. Her last book, Home Stills, followed a fictional woman through a variety of scenes that would take place at home. Toys strewn across the floor, laundry flung about the yard—all displayed with the vibrant colors and crisp attention that turn the mundane into art. Her most recent book, Topography of Quiet, also pays homage to the simple truths of life.

Topography of Quiet is a compilation of photographs Schmidt took on journeys across the world, from Greece to Egypt, Burma to Germany, Patagonia to Shelter Island. The book also includes mixed media compositions inspired by journeys outward and inward.

“The idea of macrocosm and microcosm is always present in my work,” Schmidt says. “When I was in my teens and 20s, there was always the urge to go out into the world, to explore and discover. The older I get, the more I realize that we are bound by very similar principles near and far. Reorganizing the plane of perception feels very freeing to me.”

Sometimes Schmidt’s subjects are grand, like a pyramid in Egypt or the stars in the sky. She looks at these subjects from a unique vantage point. The pyramid, for example, is depicted as a shadowy, blurred triangle against a dusky sky. And the night sky is filled with constellations, both true and invented. She draws lines between stars with strands of hair, giving an organic quality to the imagined shapes.

But Schmidt is often inspired by the humble, casting a beautiful light on the ordinary. For example, she photographed looms in Burma and carpet strings in Egypt. One image, from the Edfu Temple in Luxor, Egypt, depicts markings on the wall of a temple that is devoted to fertility. The markings were simply the imprint of thousands of hands passing over these walls, presumably praying to the Egyptian gods for fertility. Deep grooves have formed in the surface of the stone.

Even simpler still: As much as Schmidt reveres travel, she sees beauty in the everyday, at home. The pebbles of her driveway, or the white midline sprayed into the green grass of a soccer field, have as prominent a place in Topography of Quiet as great temples and oceans.

The materials Schmidt uses also echo these humble surrounding. When she’s working in mixed media, she uses things like coffee, ink, lint and hair to create her work.

“This comes in part from my having lived in Greece for many years. Seeing women in Greece saving every piece of string, paper and container out of necessity made me reflect on the reassignment of meaning of an object: the transformative life that an everyday object can have. There is a fragile beauty in preserving and reusing objects, where a memory is already attached to it.”

In this way, Schmidt has made art out of stains. A coffee spilled on the paper: tragedy for most artists in the midst of creation. But for Schmidt, it’s a beautiful part of the process.

“When I pour liquid on a page,” she said, “there is an element of being in control and not in control. There is the moment of excitement of the action and the fear of “messing up.” The stain that occurs is just an expansion of space. It’s a topography of a space.”

So she mixes coffee with ink, polymer paints, and embedded strings or hair, playing with the way the paper absorbs these materials. She’ll then use elements of these experiments in her larger mixed media works.

When you walk around Schmidt’s home, it seems there’s no corner devoid of art. It’s her reverence for the scraps of our lives that makes this true. Topography of Quiet is an ode to the value of our human experience, from the smallest crumbs to the most expansive landscapes.

Bastienne Schmidt’s work will be on display at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York City from December 11 through January 15. There will be an opening reception and book launch on December 11 from 6 to 8 p.m.

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