interview. Odyssia Houstis
photography. Vera Lin
issue 1 – in love with Switzerland
What was your life like in Switzerland? Were you always interested in art growing up?
I grew up in a working class family with a wonderful older sister and loving parents. I was not a very good student due to my dyslexia, but I always liked to draw, paint and create. Luckily, I had a teacher who recognized my artistic talents. He helped me put together a portfolio and apply to the Art school in Basel (Kunst Gewerbeschule), it’s called School for Design now (Schule für Gestaltung Basel). I was accepted to this wonderful school in 1968.
How did you end up going to the US?
After living in Zürich for nine years supporting my art with all kinds of jobs, I came across an ad for a tour guide in America. I was hired and started working in the US. After just three months I was fired. Sometimes what seems like the worst that can happen to you turns out to be a blessing.
How did the company come about?
One day a photographer who knew my art background, asked me to paint some big scenic backdrops for a job, which then led to more requests. I created a portfolio that I presented to photographers and from then on I painted surfaces and backdrops for my San Francisco clients and got my own studio. 3 ½ years later I left for Los Angeles, where there was a bigger market. Clients tell me how much my backdrops contributed to their success as professional photographers. Instead of asking for a backdrop now, they ask for a Schmidli. I am very honored every time I hear that.
You paint artwork now in parallel with painting backdrops. Do you enjoy creating paintings as much as backdrops?
Painting Backdrops was a great liberation from my art making. I did not have the same high expectations for my backdrops. Yet I learned a lot through backdrop making, which is now beneficial to my art making. Putting my art on the back burner created a void which screams to be fulfilled now. I am full of ideas for my art and I feel I have only started.
When you are painting, do you have a process?
I believe in discipline. Once I start working, inspiration sets in automatically. I remind myself of how children do not judge every step of the way while painting, they let go of high expectations. We shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes as they lead to new discoveries. I love what a teacher in art school once asked us: “Do you want to know what a good composition looks like?” Then he took a handful of beans out of his pocket and threw them on the floor and said ¨this is a good composition!¨. The mind wants to organize and cannot produce randomness. Being dyslexic forced me to find different ways to succeed, overcome my insecurities and become authentic about my shortcomings.
At this moment in your career, what part of the company, or work gives you the most satisfaction and fulfillment?
I am now very much focused on my personal art studio. Currently I have a solo show in Los Angeles, a collection of artwork that I titled Natural Occurrences. They are paintings that are results of experiments letting natural phenomena manifest themselves. I am fascinated by the variety within coherent structures. I also have other groups of work with different concepts in different styles and techniques that I am developing simultaneously.
Would you ever return to live in Switzerland?
I appreciate and enjoy the Swiss qualities of safety, punctuality, professionalism, perfectionism and cleanliness. I am spending more and more time in Switzerland during the summer months. I dream of seeing my artwork in one of my favorite museums, Kunsthalle Basel and returning to set up my homebase in Switzerland again. I would call it ¨Homecoming¨. That would be beautiful.
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