photo: Las Bebidas
Whether it's an old master painting by Diego Velazquez or visualizing mimicry in sibling relationships, artist Carrie Schneider latches onto a specific idea and carefully constructs her intricate photographs.
Her latest piece, "Las Bebidas," shown this summer at Monique Meloche Gallery's "How Do I Look?" show, re-stages Velazquez's masterpiece "Las Meninas" (1656). In the original painting, cited as a milestone in art history, Velazquez paints the princess, her maids and a dog in the foreground, and the king and queen as mirror reflections. At the time, it was unheard of for an artist to paint himself into the work, but in "Las Meninas," Velazquez not only paints himself, but he also stares back at the viewer.
Schneider staged "Las Bebidas" at the Ukrainian Village artist hangout Rainbo Club. By replacing Velazquez with herself, omitting many of the maids and the centerpiece princess—subtly replacing them with beer bottles—and swapping the mirror reflection of the king and queen with that of a single young man, she boldly carves out a place for herself as a contemporary artist. Despite the heavy art history references, the photograph remains accessible through the subtle, nuanced emotions and gazes inherent within—the same details that make Velazquez's painting unforgettable.
Since completing her MFA at the Art Institute this past May, Schneider's booked a busy schedule of residencies and upcoming shows. I had a chance to catch up with her via phone in early August during her nine-week summer residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. This fall, she takes off to Kuvataideakatemia (Academy of Fine Arts) in Helsinki, Finland, on a Fulbright scholarship; meanwhile, Meloche will take Schneider's work to the London PULSE Art Fair. And in November, she'll be in a group show at Chicago's ThreeWalls Gallery.
What's it like being totally immersed in your work at Skowhegan in rural Maine and away from urban Chicago?
It's been really incredible. There are 65 artists from all over the world here, and all our living accommodations are taken care of. It's an opportunity to stop doing what I was doing when I was in Chicago as a grad student and just slow down. I feel like my work is really reflecting that, too. I've been doing a lot of still lives with people as objects, as well as a lot of [photos of] people sleeping.
Seems like your environment really influences your work.
It does. For six or seven months, I was shooting at the Rainbo Club for "Las Bebidas." The owner let me go in during closed hours to set up people and scenes. There was something about the place that was really central to my experience [as a grad student at SAIC], and I really wanted to capture that moment. A lot of artists in Chicago [also] frequent that bar, [so I also feel like] it's a metaphor for a shared experience.
What was it like growing up in Waukegan? Did that influence your decision to return to Chicago for your MFA?
I actually grew up in Gurnee, but I was born in Waukegan. Coming to the Art Institute to do my MFA was like coming home. Being surrounded by my family really affected me, and that's when I started doing the Mimicry series with my brother [which explored mimicry in sibling relationships]. I actually ended up taking some photos for that series in Waukegan.
Why did you choose Finland for your Fulbright Scholarship?
I think it has a lot to do with taking those photos with my brother [for the Mimicry series] in my hometown. My grandmother's farmhouse is still in Waukegan—her Finnish brothers built it. People started looking at my work and saying "Oh, that looks Scandinavian." Then I started looking at other artists like Salla Tykka, and I got excited about the similarities. It all kind of happened in this weird, organic way where my work already had these Scandinavian aspects to them, like implied emotional tenure, focus on psychological states and a similar color palette. I'm looking forward to being in Finland for nine months and seeing how that will affect my work.