carlier | gebauer
May 2 - June 6
From a distance, the canvases in “Working the Landscape,” Erik Schmidt’s fourth solo exhibition at carlier | gebauer and one of the inaugural shows in its new eighty-six-hundred-square-foot space, resonate as weakly as most photographic reproductions of paintings. The series, which Schmidt painted in Berlin during the course of several visits to the Ella Valley winery, has the sunny quality of California Impressionism: His fragrant use of greens, purples, and pinks can look like a light gloss on the sun-soaked glory of his subject. This impression, of lightweight decoration, may persist even after one discovers that these peaceful and productive pastoral scenes were painted in a country with a climate as contentious as Israel: The winery is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Yet approach the works closely and the mood changes entirely. The colors that register from afar as part of a carefully calibrated whole are actually chunks of unsmoothed paint so aggressively textured that the canvases feel more like sculptures than flat reproductions. Schmidt, who has previously painted hunting scenes and snapshot-style images of exchanges between urban pedestrians, appears to have squeezed the oil paint in thick, unmixed globs directly from the tube onto his canvases, and the effect has as much banal aggression as toothpaste forcefully jetted onto the canvas. As with Schmidt's images of hunters on breaks from killing and of casual but potentially sharp social exchanges on city streets, the technique expresses the underlining violence and constant tension omnipresent in Israel—even in the natural splendor of the Ella Valley. The spiky sensuality of the paint creates a compelling contrast to the placid imagery Schmidt produces with each powerful gesture. Up close, “Working the Landscape” is not only rich but deep and weighty.