Jena Schmidt is an abstract painter with a unique, organic style. Schmidt graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. She lives in Utah.
Tell us about your background and development as an artist. I’ve grown up with a love for art. My mom was an art major and designer so I was influenced by her and always had a desire to create, no matter the genre. I started taking art seriously when I started college at Utah Valley University. The summer after I graduated high school, I saw an exhibit at the UMFA of Hyunmee Lee’s big abstract paintings, which I was awe-struck about. I later found out she taught at UVU and ended up taking classes from her for two years which greatly influenced my decision to pursue an art career. I then moved on to BYU where I got my BFA in studio arts. The program and professors there encouraged us to really think conceptually about the art we were creating and I realized that all of my art was always coming out organically with ties to nature. From there, I kept working on the development of a fresh perspective of landscape. Because we have photography, the Internet, and a long history of landscape painting, this is an over-digested subject matter yet something so inherently rooted in my system that I can’t escape it. I have been painting this endless subject matter for five years since and the idea of searching for new and imagined landscapes keeps painting an outlet for this ever-unfolding exploration.
It was written about you, “Schmidt has come to recognize a symbiotic relationship with her surroundings, and her landscapes depict a particularly contemporary way of thinking.” Explain. Growing up in Utah has engrained the landscape in me. The Wasatch Mountains are right in your face every day, we drink the water that drain down the canyon streams. I constantly find myself zooming in on little pieces of land where the trees grow in a particularly interesting shape, or the snow has fallen to make negative space on the mountain. Spending a lot of time in a landscape like this has led me to ask a lot of questions about my relationship to it. How small am I compared to its grandiosity? What’s going on in the canyon when the clouds are laying low and I can’t see? Since the landscape is not flat, you can’t see for a distance, my mind wanders to question what’s on the other side; what new place is there for me to discover and paint? These curiosities are the driving force for my work, and as said before, I want to find a way to express this winding exploration in a contemporary way. I want to create the atmosphere that people can relate to without telling them the whole story.
I find your choice of colors particularly ethereal. What is your process for starting a new piece? I collect a lot of photos of landscapes I’ve traveled in and a lot I haven’t been to or that are on my list to travel to. I spend time looking researching on Google maps, and zooming in on places like Banff or the Black Forest in Germany that seem mysterious and beautiful to me and move my mouse around until I find a good composition. I make a lot of sketches that combine these images and play around with the shapes or insert lines to denote a journey. A lot of times I will make a small painting sketch on paper and then play around with it in Photoshop until I get the colors and shapes I want. Then I will translate that into a painting.
What are you working on next? Currently I am working on some small works for the Small Business Saturday at Utah Museum of Contemporary Art the weekend after Thanksgiving, the Honoring Utah Artists show at Alpine Art, and on a solo show in Telluride, CO in February. These will all be a continuation of my “Black North” landscape series. After that, and in the mean time, I am working on developing a more colorful, playful series based on the time I have been spending in Colombia.