Born in Lake Forest, Illinois in 1956, Erika Lawlor Schmidt has forged a career as a visual and performing artist whose work is deeply shaped by investigations into Eastern philosophy and Indian mysticism. Schmidt received her B.F.A. from the University of South Florida in Tampa and did post-baccalaureate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She later earned an M.F.A. from the University of South Florida, where she founded the Vital Spark Performance Group, a collaborative interdisciplinary ensemble that has traveled to major U.S. cities and throughout Europe.
Schmidt has been a guest artist at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the University of Miami in Florida, ELon University, N.C. and Castleton College, Vermont. Her prints and collages have been widely exhibited at different venues, including the Drawing Center and the Lincoln Center Gallery in New York; the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida; the Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa: and the Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art in Sarasota, Florida. Among the numerous awards she has received acknowledging her unique approach to art and multi-media theater are accolades at international dance festivals in Prague, Czech Republic (1999); Cercena, Italy (2001); and Barcelona, Spain (2006).
Erika's work is in numerous private and public collections and has been widely shown in national juried and invitational exhibitions including:
Filled with intriguing juxtapositions and shaped to cunning effect, Erika Lawlor Schmidt's prints and collages draw on a range of influences but still recall one of the founding principles of Surrealism, as articulated by André Breton in 1929 when he described a successful work of art as being "as beautiful as the chance encounter between a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table." In Schmidt's own words, her work reveals "the interface between disjunction and the sublime." They succeed by introducing again and again an element of stirring surprise. Look closely and you will find references to cultural, religious, and pop iconography, to the domestic domain and the natural and spiritual realms. There are haunting echoes of bygone times in bits and pieces from old prints, maps, books, and magazines, introducing a hint of nostalgia. Asian influences are apparent in a general sense throughout the work, which is not surprising, since aspects of Zen philosophy and Indian metaphysics, of which Schmidt is a student, underlie her thinking as an artist.
"There is an understanding in Eastern art and philosophy," she says, "of how form emerges from empty space. The impulse to fill up space is not important." The negative space in her work is as eloquent as the iconography, in the same way that silence can be as evocative as the written or spoken word in a poem. It's no accident that her shapes and compositions recall elements of rhythm and cadence found in choreography and music. Schmidt has a background as a performance artist, and the principles of improvisation play into her approach to collage. "There is a sense," she explains, "of contradiction and ambiguity translated through found and disparate elements and reordered into something elegant and spiritually attuned."
My work is shaped by the recognition and inquiry to cyclical tendencies, including the contemplation of life cycles: birth, death and rebirth or the possibility for reincarnation. I have been interested in this all my life.
My surroundings reveal all that exists in a constant state of flux and that the physical world including the body, all material things, trends, fashions, technologies, reputations, families and fortunes eventually change, die and fade away. While I recognize the reality of impermanence, I also sense the presence of a connective yet unseeable life force that moves, shapes and holds us together and that is revealed in elegant but mystifying ways through the physical world. I am interested in the expression of that idea.
I am interested in locating the imprint of time and place in the body and psyche where personal and shared experience coincide. Merged are symbolic elements that signify collective experience with parts that reflect the intimate and personal. This integration parts has the capacity to express simultaneously a number of meanings.
The work speaks to how form emerges from emptiness where things having weight contend with weightless things. The work speaks to the understanding of the interrelatedness of all things.