Schmidt's wild vision revived

Marianna Schmidt: Carnaval Photographs & Paintings
At the Teck Gallery until August 30

Selected Prints and Drawings
At the Burnaby Art Gallery until August 26

Mixed Media Works 1963-2002
At the Evergreen Art Centre, Coquitlam, until September 15

Three concurrent exhibitions constitute an instructive retrospective of the work of Marianna Schmidt, who died at 87 in 2005. These shows, and their accompanying catalogue, bring deserved attention to an eccentric and gifted local artist.

From the start, Schmidt's art depended on influences she overtly used and made her own. In 1966's Carnaval, for example, some of the revellers and animals depicted were appropriated from Pablo Picasso. In this and other etchings, Schmidt also borrowed from Jean Dubuffet. Her spindly-limbed, goggle-eyed humanoids and tipped-up urban environments are so close to features of his 1950s drawings that these days she would likely have heard from his lawyers. Schmidt's response to what Dubuffet called his own obsession with "instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness" is her depictions of hypermanic events, with body bits strewn on boulevards and parks like discarded plastic bags. Schmidt enjoyed black humour. Even the 1965 etching Exodus the only work in the three shows that's thought to refer directly to her forced exile from Hungary to Austria in 1944 was likely intended to induce a cackle.

These etchings (and some later works) update particulars of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights of 1504. In several lithographs, three women on horseback, purloined from Bosch, trot down cobbled village streets in Latin America. The skinny figures drawn in Dubuffet's Hourloupe outline method are persistent denizens of Schmidt's mixed-media productions, often residing with those rendered in an expressionist, painterly manner or cut from the pages of magazines.

In the late 1970s, Schmidt absorbed and replayed pop art and hard-edge trends. On the whole, however, her lasting affinities came from across the Atlantic. From the mid '80s onward, figures in her works on paper often reflected her embrace of the styles of Georg Baselitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Francis Bacon. These influences led to pieces that expressed Schmidt's cynical observations about jealousy, marriage, self-absorbed angst, and even American football, rendered in a wild manner that became part of her personal signature.

Her allusive, rich aesthetic was fed by a lifelong habit of visiting libraries, art events, major museums, and obscure Latin American towns at carnival times. Schmidt's motto could have been "I borrow what I need to transform."