Eric Schnell




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2009

 

 

Eric Schnell, the Artist Inside and Out

The Columbia Daily Spectator

Published November 17, 2006

Almost a decade after leaving Columbia and the artistic zenith of New York City, Eric Schnell has returned to campus as a teacher and a new father-a change he never saw coming.

The International Studio and Curatorial Program, a visual arts residency based in Midtown, invited Schnell to New York for a six-month stint beginning this past summer. The residency is set to conclude Friday at the program's building with a large exhibition featuring artwork from 28 international artists.

Visual arts professor Gregory Amenoff said he saw this as the perfect opportunity to invite Schnell to teach an advanced drawing course.

Schnell, whose art has been displayed on both coasts, combines drawing and free-form sculpture to capture the unease that comes with knowing that a greater truth lies beyond what is present.

"I build these complex things-they're like drawings you can walk into," Schnell said.

While studying at Columbia's School of the Arts, Schnell built a large and abstract sculpture in his studio in Prentis, which he said helped him define his art and launched him into an artistic frenzy.

"It was a room with icicles hanging from the windows, and inside there was this character called 'The Rat Man,' which was based on Freud's case studies ... he [the Rat Man] lived in the room and watched himself gardening," Schnell said.

Since the structure that he built in his studio was too large to transport, Schnell picked up a hammer and some nails and began to construct "boats"-or tangled, shattered, and splintered collections of material intended as a vehicles for the Rat Man to travel the world and as a prism reflecting the character's consciousness.

To Schnell, everything is connected and intertwined. His process of creating a piece begins with getting the his inner thoughts onto the outside.

"If you can get it out there, then you can examine it better. When it's inside, it's too abstract, and you can't put your hands on what it is. But, once it's outside and it's built and it's out in the world then I can tinker with it and try to change it," Schnell said. "It's like sympathetic magic--you're trying to change what's inside by changing what's outside that was inside. And once it's changed when you put it back inside, you're changed."

This line of abstract thinking has led many of his students to regard Schnell as a respected teacher and mentor-to the point of creating a Facebook group called Lil'-Bag-O-Sunshine Advanced Drawing Posse of Fall '06, a reference to one of Schnell's in-class tangents.

Though working on his exhibit, teaching the Advanced Drawing class, and taking care of his newborn daughter eats up most of the free time he has on the weekends, Schnell still makes sure to get away every now and then and take in the museums and galleries he missed dearly over the past eight years.

"It's really a unique opportunity-there's really nothing like it in the world," Schnell said. "In America, once you leave New York, the cultural level just drops."

Schnell rejects the notion that his work is avant-garde. In fact, he claims to still follow classical ideas of beauty and creating something that is as beautiful as possible.

Schnell said he believes his job is to help students gain a foothold in the postmodern, anything-goes concept that has conquered the art world.

"In my class, we have so many different approaches to an art project that it's rather remarkable. You see everything from a Russian, classically-trained person who is trained in photographic realism next to a person who is more interested in abstraction and really going in a totally different place," Schnell said. "I think that in this day and age being a teacher means helping the student themselves and get better at what they want to do than for me to sort of dictate, 'Hey this is what art is.'"