It's a pleasure to watch Bill Schmidt work, even if, like me, you've never been near his studio.
Visit the show of his sculptures and drawings at Galerie Francoise and it's almost as if you have seen the work in progress. That's not because it looks the least bit unfinished. On the contrary, it confronts you rather formally, like someone dressed up for a party with not a hair out of place. There is the sense throughout this show that Schmidt doesn't let a piece go out for public scrutiny until it's complete in every detail.
It's partly for that reason, in fact, that his works convey the sense of how they were created -- both the extremely careful planning and the painstaking execution. Look at one of his drawings, and you can see him ever so lightly putting in the white highlights, almost as if they were dusted on rather than applied with something that touched the paper.
Look at his wall-mounted sculptures, especially the natural wood ones such as "Snare," and you can see Schmidt selecting just the right size twigs and arranging them to look formally informal: Everything about the individual parts of this work is asymmetrical, and yet it achieves an overall symmetry that's satisfying because it's not strict and regimented.
Schmidt's sculptures divide into two groups: the sleek ones, usually painted and often having a look reminiscent of art deco, and the stick ones made of wood in its natural state. Art deco can be an awful cliche in the wrong hands; but Schmidt almost always avoids that by not going overboard and by varying his forms so he doesn't appear to be merely reshuffling a pack of motifs and putting them together in different ways.
Even more satisfying are the unpainted, unpolished stick sculptures. Despite their extremely well-worked-out compositions, they have enough of nature still showing to leave the impression that the artist has discovered an order implicit in them rather than having imposed an artificial one. But it's a testament to Schmidt's art that these sculptures can occupy the same space with his deco-oriented sculptures and not, in most cases, make the latter look too contrived.
One of Schmidt's attributes is his sense of scale. His sculptures in this show range from 15 inches to 93 inches in length, but each one is just the right size and happily balanced in its relationship of part to part. That could result in preciousness if it announced itself in a self-conscious way, but it doesn't -- it's something you realize gradually as you think about these works.
What: Bill Schmidt sculptures and drawings
Where: Galerie Francoise et ses freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through March 4
Call: (410) 337-2787
Pub Date: 2/25/97