Photo by Archie Macias
Gabriel Schmitz was born in 1970 in Germany, and his style of painting evokes German expressionism. But Schmitz, who studied art in Scotland, England and Salamanca before arriving in Barcelona, considers himself a European, rather than exclusively German, artist. What’s more, he’s a European artist who draws inspiration from non-European subjects. A typical Schmitz painting depicts Africans, Latin Americans, or Asians—dancers, a child, workers in a rice paddy—captured in a moment of suspended motion.
Schmitz came to Barcelona in 1994 to pursue a degree at the Winchester School of Art, a venerable English institution that at the time operated a postgraduate centre here. After completing his MA in European Art, Schmitz stayed on. Today, married with two children, he’s a busy, successful artist living in the Eixample and selling his art through galleries in Paris and Barcelona.
Why did you choose to stay in Barcelona?
After I finished my degree, I really wasn’t sure where else to go. Also, I met my wife here—by drawing her. As a student I used to carry a sketchpad around and draw all the time. One night, in a bar called Albareda on Princesa where artists used to gather, I started drawing a woman working there. Later I asked her to go to a gallery opening with me. That’s how we met.
And you find inspiration for your work here?
Yes. I work a lot with images from photographs. In Barcelona you can find all kinds of images. I always have my camera with me. I never know when I may come across an image and it’s like, whoa!
How do you select an image?
I like to find the images almost by accident. Sometimes when I have a new canvas and don’t know what to do I just go though all the images I’ve collected, maybe combining some of them. Often, I find myself trying to distance myself, trying to get a source that’s as weak as possible so I can connect it to other things.
What attracts you to the people in your paintings?
Well, I never feel like I’m doing a portrait. What I need is the individuality behind the figure. You know how we Westerners sometimes say we can’t tell Asians apart? I think that’s why I’m attracted to African and Asian figures, people whose individuality is not so obvious to the viewer. I want to discover the figure’s individuality.
Have you travelled in Asia and Africa?
I like to travel, but I don’t have much time for it now. I’ve travelled some in Africa. But many of my paintings suggest places I’ve never been, and I’m not desperate to go to those places. I’m not sure what would happen if I’d been to all those places. Maybe that would cut down on my freedom to imagine.
How do you transform images you find into paintings?
It starts as a kind of interface between what’s happening in the painting, the image I’ve chosen as a reference or starting point, and myself. So it starts as a triangle. Then in the end the painting advances, and I just respond to what is happening. From there on it turns into a dialogue between the painting and me. Often the most satisfying painting for me is the one that you can hardly tell where it came from in the first place.