The paintings of Elizabeth Schmirl are private, quiet, contemplative. The sound is silence, or “Eleanor Rigby.” They seem private but meant for others, a self display, and a self disclosure.
Looking at them becomes almost a meditation. There is a longing, a desire, a wanting to be seen that pulses, vibrates softly but distinctly.
There is an implicit intimacy in this portraiture, unlike Alex Katz’s obsessive painting of his wife, or Elizabeth Peyton’s making the heroic into fan mash notes. Schmirl is making the mundane, if not heroic, alive, shimmeringly visceral and seen. There is a certain sameness to Peyton’s paintings, whereas Schmirl can be chameleon-like; people and brush strokes are varied, individual. The paintings are considered, thoughtful and definitely not painted quickly. There are no drips or visible mistakes. The paintings are making social commentary on the role of women in society.
These women (mostly) are painted with the intimacy of Wyeth’s Helga series, but fitting for our time. These are not lovers or friends but strangers found off of the internet. “Me” and “my name” is searched online and Schmirl beautifully explores the disconnect between who these people are and who they wish to be. Schmirl creates a bridge and meets these subjects; they are emotionally bare, as in the Helga paintings, but clothed.
Schmirl notices things. Take a look at Squares While We Wait. Look at the brush strokes in the sculptural hair. The subject almost becomes a literal wall-flower as the hair becomes the strokes on the wall, the very wall paper. She wants to be desired. She is an offering, frozen by her desire to be seen. Her face looks somewhat uncomfortable, yet soothed, almost caressed by the brush strokes.
Her work reminds me of Vermeer’s ageless light and Fassbinder’s fascination with mirrors and reflections and its paradoxes. The paintings are Ingres-esque in their precision and sometimes share the washy strokes of Marlene Dumas. At times the paint can be watery, shimmery. Schmirl plays with stereotype. There is wisdom here, nothing smug or flip, but soulful and resonant. Playful, yes; there is a definite sense of humor (just check out Girl with bunny!)
David Hockney contends that ordinary photographs can be viewed for no more than thirty seconds; however, Schmirl’s paintings of snapshots make us linger. Schmirl finds online images which were put on the internet by the subjects to share, to attract, inviting a communion. The sizes of some of the canvases are not exactly snapshot size but they are small. Snapshots are made in moments, these paintings are lovingly created, making us study and gaze longer. View All eyes on you. It is insanely detailed and the brushstrokes varied. The subject’s face lit by the glow of a computer screen. The juxtaposition of the flat painted surface versus the alive eyes (longing personified), framed by intense architectural bangs. She is the present moment revealed, and I love that her David Bowie eyes are two different colors. The glasses she wears seem to float, framing her face: an offering.
Check out Squares while we wait Enface 7. Again a girl with glasses. Self conscious. The computer screen glows, hums: “look at me” then “don’t look at me” and then “please look at me.” I want to give her a cuddle.
Now look at Squares while we wait enface 1 with her cool sunglasses but her sun burnt face. It looks painful. Hello sunblock! Hello global warming! Who is she trying to impress? But then again, who depicts their “me” with the windows to their soul (their eyes) covered? The reflection in those glasses has an edge of danger.
The subjects of Schmirl’s paintings have put themselves, their best selves, into the ether of the internet, at risk. They ask me, me, me? Schmirl paints their best possible selves. They are intimately and lovingly realized. Her portraits give reality to their urges. In Elizabeth Schmirl’s paintings, the self is made real by being seen. The ordinary is made beautiful with extraordinary paint skill. Shmirl is telling them, and us, who the subjects are and who they almost could be. Breathtaking.