The Buffalo State College Newman Center will host a unique painting by a local artist during Lent. Henry Schmidt's "Christ, A Point of View" will hang in the chapel Feb. 10-March 25. The artist himself will give a talk about his work Feb. 17, at 7 p.m.
The 4x5 foot oil and charcoal on canvas shows Jesus on the cross, but as the name implies, from a different view, from behind. The cross looks modern, more of a well-designed T than two boards primitively bound together. Jesus stands on a block, but bolts can be seen holding His hands into place and His body hangs asymmetrically. Schmidt's work doesn't make a statement, it raises questions.
"It's inspired by a piece in Toronto (by 17th-century Italian Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini) that had that abstract cross, which I found quite interesting in terms of the juxtaposition of the traditional with something completely non-traditional," Schmidt said from his Snyder home studio. "I think it adds to the tension. There's an atmosphere there. There's a cloud. There's a landscape, but there isn't. You have a perspective view, but as you come down, the perspective starts to become more pervasive, then it doesn't exist at all. It's all about creating different tensions. It's about creating a traditional view with something non-traditional, creating elements that have more of a contemporary feel to it.
"I call this 'Christ: A Point of View.' It's all about taking a different point of view and thinking about what you see. Actually tagging these images and saying they do mean something to me," Schmidt said. "That's one thing I don't think people understand, how powerful images are, and how much effect they do have on them without them really realizing it."
Schmidt invited his longtime friend Father Patrick Zengierski, director of the Buff State Newman Center, to see the painting. "He was quite taken by it. That was good news to hear. It's a point of view that is hard to find in Western art." The parish council suggested hanging it in the chapel during Lent.
"I thought it was so unique and it offered such a different perspective," Father Zengierski said. "It's Jesus just embracing the world in a different way then we sometimes imagine. I thought the different perspective can really help us think again about Christ's sacrifice. Sometimes, it's like with the Scriptures, we get so accustomed to hearing the story that it loses some of its impact. This new perspective, I think, gives new impact to the crucifixion."
The Newman Center likes to have a different crucifix in its chapel every season. During Easter, a risen Christ will be used.
"In Lent, we might use a different crucified Christ that we use in ordinary time. We were thinking of the image of Jesus on the cross, and what can impact us in a way as to seriously consider God's great love and mercy for us. This image, I thought, did that," he said.
This will be the first time the public will see the oil and charcoal pieces, a medium he began using two years ago.
"For me, it is a good introduction to get a feel for what people think. Maybe it will spark some other interest," Schmidt said, adding he will give a talk about the piece and his other works.
The piece is typical of recent works in charcoal, which he uses to draw and brush onto the canvas creating dark images that depict a juxtaposition of ideas that contrast and compliment each other. One piece features a drone airplane behind an armored solider, both faceless. "Labella" shows the mistress of Pope Alexander VI. In the corner one sees a bull, the symbol of the House of Borgia, but it is modeled after the Wall Street Bull, maybe showing that money is the new mistress. "Blind Angel," a diptych, shows the beauty of a cherub statue and the blind destruction of beauty of a tornado.
His works are inspired by images he sees, which spark images in his mind. While visiting Becker Farms, he saw a goat poking its head out of a fence.
"Immediately I saw this whole thing, with the Gaza Strip behind it and these people who are trapped," Schmidt recalled. "There are so many people in this world who are trapped in situations that are just unbelievable. When I saw that goat sticking his head out of that fence, I said there's a real metaphor for a lot of people on the planet who are having trouble."
Other works include a traditional bust of Abraham Lincoln, which stands next to some abstract woodcarvings and ironwork in his studio. Visitors to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park by the waterfront may have seen his sculpture of the 155th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment Monument dedicated in 2002, which his Civil War re-enactment buddies posed for.
Buffalo born and raised, Schmidt studied in Syracuse, earning a degree in Painting and Illustration, followed by a master's in Art Education from Buff State. He has worked in the creative ends of the business world including as art director of WKBW-TV and director of art and sculpture for Fisher-Price. He has exhibited his work throughout Western New York including the Burchfield Penney Art Gallery in Buffalo, Kenan Center, Lockport, N.Y., and Benjamin's Art Gallery in Buffalo.