The Artist’s Practice


Born in Pecs, Hungary in 1936, Clarissa Schmidt Inglis received a B.A. from the University of Toronto (1987) and is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design (1979).  Her training in Europe includes studies at the Atelier de dessin et d’arts decorative in Paris (1962). A senior Canadian artist with a lengthy exhibition history, Schmidt Inglis is represented in major public collections such as the McMaster Museum of Art, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, the MacLaren Art Centre, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Kenderdine Gallery and Museums London.  Over the last 25 years, Schmidt Inglis has exhibited widely in numerous venues throughout Ontario including solo showings at Galerie du Nouvel Ontario, Sudbury (2003); Art Gallery of Hamilton (2000); Art Gallery of Peel (2000 – travelling); Glendon Gallery (1999); The Gallery/Stratford (1989); Art Gallery of Algoma (1987); Art Gallery of Kitchener/Waterloo (1986 – travelling); White Water Gallery, North Bay (1985) and the Art Gallery of Cobourg (1981).  The artist’s work has also been presented within current curatorial practice through inclusion in many group exhibitions such as Women of Steel (Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, 2002); This Decade of Days (Burlington Art Centre, 1999); Reimagining Modernism (MacLaren Art Centre, 1999), McMaster Collects (McMaster Museum of Art, 1994), and has been analyzed and contextualized in numerous articles and publications including: Five Years, 1986 (Kitchener/Waterloo Art Gallery); Clarissa Schmidt Inglis: Twenty One Years (Art Gallery of Peel, 2000) and Women of Steel (Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, 2002). 

Over the years, Schmidt Inglis has challenged the cultural and patriarchal forces that have both defined and confined her.  From the indoctrinations of Catholicism and childhood fairy tales to the repressive routines of domesticity and pointed examinations of sexuality, Schmidt Inglis’ work is rooted in a deeply personal perspective.  Serial in approach and frequently looping back upon itself, her body of work reflects a consistent thematic evolution based in a unique visual vocabulary of wire, wire products and consumer items.  Now in the third decade of her practice, Schmidt Inglis continues to turn the disposable culture of North America upon itself to question the role of women in patriarchy.

Schmidt Inglis’ career was launched in 1979 by the Tedious Chores Series, an examination of the repetitive and monotonous nature of domestic work. Featuring massed household items such as rubber gloves and scouring pads, the series initiated her signature methodology – the use of non-precious materials and the simple, welded steel table.  First utilized as a point of organization, the table would later serve as signifier of both stage setting and sacred altar. Larger social forces undermining the lives of women were examined in subsequent series including Self Transfigurations (1982-83), a group of nine works using Styrofoam wig forms as the basis for an examination of women’s roles.  Schmidt Inglis’ renunciation of the traditional techniques and materials of sculpture continued with her use of large quantities of consumer items, reinforcing the endless rituals of hairdressing, tooth brushing or applying makeup performed by women in pursuit of an ideal of feminine beauty. 

In the Fairy Tales Series of 1994, Schmidt Inglis sought the private realm of memory drawing upon fantastic stories remembered from childhood.  Part homage to the tradition of oral history, the series also examined the violent and sexual nature of these loosely disguised morality lessons. Conceived as grotesque fairy tale counterparts, each work in the series contains diverse elements -copper and
steel scouring pads, clamps, and severed doll parts organized around the table form.

With the Organics Series (1997-98) and its references to nature’s echoes of male and female sexuality such as leaf/vulva forms and snake as phallus, Schmidt Inglis developed a metaphorical language with which to attack those elements of Catholicism that seek to deny and sublimate sexuality.  This would see further development with the works of Devoured (1999), an examination of male dominated social structures that eat away at the female core through oppression or violence. Drawing from the realm of feminist discourse that seeks to reclaim woman’s identity through her body, Schmidt Inglis evoked hair, genitalia and blood through a startling array of visual associations ranging from organic imagery to Catholic liturgy. In other Devoured works, Schmidt Inglis advanced her working methods with manipulations of wire – braiding, wrapping and knitting it in a parody of the complexity and labour of women’s traditional handicrafts.  This would lead to the inventive wire clothing forms of Recollecting (1999), an examination of the domestic work traditionally identified with women.  Informed by memories of her maternal grandmother, a milliner, the artist used various types of wire to create veils and articles of clothing.  The domestic ritual of preserving food was also addressed with a group of works consisting of preserving jars or vials arranged on small shelves. With contents ranging from rubber insects and spiders to wire and tinsel, the preserving jars are also metaphors for denial and repression of sexuality.

Schmidt Inglis’ frequent forays into hybrids of two and three dimensional techniques have helped to maintain a fresh balance in her output over the years.  Since 2000, she has concentrated on the development of sequential collage works like A Woman, a Dog and a Walnut Tree (the more you beat ’em, the better they be).  This group of 100 steel mounted wall tablets containing various two and three dimensional elements may be read as a meditation on the artist’s upbringing and conditioning as a Catholic female. Featuring references to earlier work, self portraiture and relief forms, its scope invites careful contemplation.  A critical component is the artist’s use of text including quotations, excerpts from personal letters and key words denoting traditional feminine virtues. Schmidt Inglis would build upon this in subsequent explorations of the subversive use of language, incorporating material such as personal correspondence and the Latin text of Roman missals.  Other key elements such as sewing needles and articles of adornment reiterate condemnatory attacks on Patriarchy’s view of feminine servitude.

Most recently, Schmidt Inglis has explored the two dimensional use of wire in the form of ink drawings, scans and second-generation images. Notions of socially and religiously imposed female roles of service, self-adornment, and self-sacrifice continue to be a preoccupation, along with the recurrent use of a little girl’s dress form juxtaposed with linear and textual pattern.  With its confining lines and text as metaphor for personal history, the disembodied dress alludes to the global notion of the female person’s lack of value and entitlement. The effect of the images resembles journal entries and establishes a dialogue between the sacred and the profane, the private and the public in an attempt to validate feminine imagery and emotion. In several of these works bordering on abstraction, Schmidt Inglis further develops the dress figure as defining shape, ultimately reducing it to both literal and metaphorical negative space.                                                                                                                                          

Within the scope of Canadian practice, the work of Clarissa Schmidt Inglis finds resonance with several of her contemporaries.  Usage of the table form and rejection of precious materials is shared with artists such as Magdalen Celestino, and a similar massing of objects may be seen in the sculpture of An Whitlock.  While the use of feminine handiwork such as quilting and beadwork is evident in the work of artists like Joyce Wieland and Colette Whiten, Schmidt Inglis’ approach has subverted the so called gentle arts by applying them to industrial materials such as wire. Wieland’s frank explorations of sexuality in paintings such as Nature Mixes (1963) find kinship with the evolving forms of Schmidt Inglis’ Organics Series. Comparisons may also be drawn to feminist artists working within international postmodernism.  Schmidt Inglis’ use of objects and text has antecedents in the work of American artists Mary Kelly (b. 1941) and Jenny Holzer (b. 1950).  Exposing the authoritative voice of patriarchal order underlies both Holzer’s Truisms (1982), and Schmidt Inglis’ A Woman, a Dog and a Walnut Tree.

Judy Daley, Curator
June 2004