Our Lady of the Zombies: The Art of Aurel Schmidt

Aurel Schmidt’s fecal faces are devilish. Each of her seductive uglies is made of an assortment of drug paraphernalia, post-coital litter, organic and synthetic waste, gutter vermin, flowing hair, decaying flowers, all of it and more, as if it has all crawled and converged to form this horrific image. The zombies, burn-outs, and party monsters are Rabelaisian parodies of sacrosanct youth culture, full of misanthropic contradictions, each named for a misogynistic joke or after drug addict vernacular; puerile and violent themes are rendered with exquisite lifelike detail, and sexual references are also references to a culture of garbage. When she arrived in New York, it seems Aurel Schmidt witnessed a city with consumer swine flu–a diarrheal social set where conspicuous consumption has turned cannibalistic, represented in her art as a materialism gone toxic in an unsustainable urban ecology. The Williamsburg art scene is depicted as a cast of “burn-outs” gorging on celebrity status, candy condoms, cocaine bumps, tons of cigarettes, prodding each other with provocative artworks and rubber sex toys. From the septic swill of Manhattan’s narcissistic, memory-addled art scene, Schmidt made portraits of the all night “party monsters” out of stale, rotted food, maggoty smiles slobbering beer, bloody band-aid noses, lipstick and semen smears.

It’s not just Manhattan she represents–this is the mental state of dissolution that we are in, whether it’s Iraq, Afghanistan, the tar sands of Alberta, the auto industry bailout, the serial killings and drug wars in Juárez, Mexico, or Vancouver, BC–her drawings depict the hell in us, the sodden waste of our everlasting narcissism. The intense detail and sinuous lines, the indestructible skills of the artist are plastic. The flat surface upon which the faces and bodies suddenly appear remind me of the horrible conglomerations of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating, killing miasma of our own making. You are what you eat, and in Schmidt’s case, the irony is that she bites the hand that feeds her.

The harder Schmidt pushes her subject matter towards the lip of obscenity the more sensually appetizing the drawings appear to be; it’s that contrast between the sweet technical skills and the acid wit of the pictures–a fresh horror not everyone can stomach…

See Issue 110 to read Lee Henderson’s entire article!

Volume 28, Number 2

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #110, published June 2009.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.