Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Below the surface



Though she's loath to admit it because she knows how absolutely cheesy and romantic it sounds, Gypsy Schindler says the first time she took a life drawing class, she cried. She fell in love with the model. She's fallen in love with every model since then, no matter how tired, no matter how middle-aged they look. In fact, her favorite model right now is Idgy, a woman whose hard life is engraved in her guarded yet vulnerable countenance, in her gestures and posture.

"When you have to look at someone so hard for so long, nothing seems wrong," Schindler says. Schindler browses through the photo albums of friends and family to find subjects for her paintings, seeking faces of familiar-looking strangers.

In her sketchbook, the 29-year-old Eastern University grad student makes notes about the expression on an individual's face, jotting down such key words as "aggressive." She also points arrows to where lighting falls and scribbles reminders about which high key colors to use (red is her favorite right now, for bright flesh like raw meat). These components are the basis for her psychological portraits, reminiscent of work by Michelangelo — "What painters aren't influenced by Michelangelo?" she asks — as well as Caravaggio, Edvard Munch and, recently, Lucien Freud.

In her newer pieces, Schindler breaks up the picture plane, dividing a work into separate panels to experiment with ideas about memory and time lapse. Her painting for The Laboratory, an exhibition curated by instructors Jennifer Locke and Adrian Hatfield this month at the Gallery Project, is a triptych of a bathroom scene that could be viewed as inappropriate, depending on whether you interpret it as one or three moments in time. This narrative ambiguity is part of the intrigue in her art, and it's also her gesture to the audience, allowing everyone the opportunity to interpret whatever they wish.

Her scenes are often cropped close, which perhaps is the influence of growing up in cramped quarters with her two siblings and parents (Mom's an artist, Dad's a violinist) in Vanderbilt, north of Gaylord.

"I've always noticed how in other families, there's a sense of normalcy even when something's happening that's not normal," Schindler says. In one of her paintings, a child lies on the bathroom floor, next to a parent that's passed out, probably drunk. In another, a woman sits naked (wearing nothing more than a few fat rolls to conceal her) on a picnic bench in a backyard. She hangs out with some guy — her husband? — and a small boy. In still another image, a couple argues in bed, their mouths open wide, heads raised and necks strained in a gesture that conveys emotions too intense for such a relaxed setting. As with all of Schindler's works, this scene is uncomfortably well-lit. The bedroom is dark for another reason.


The Laboratory features paintings, prints, sculptures and more by Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University students through Dec. 30 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-997-7012.

Rebecca Mazzei is the arts editor of Metro Times. Send comments to

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