Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Interview with Kristine Schomaker: Second Life, Psychedelic Drip-Paintings, and Challenging Body Image; a Merging of Media and Self-Perception

Kristine Schomaker is the board-elected media boss of the LA Brewery Artwalk, a large collective of artists housed in (obviously) an old brewery in LA.  I've been moderately obsessed with the LA Brewery since I was about 18 when I started raving in Los Angeles and would often drive by the huge creepy structure, thinking it would be a great place to break into for the purposes of rave or just architectural nerdism (you can see my many tirades on the subject in my preview and review of the LA Brewery Artwalk).  Turns out it's hardly vacant or eerie, and Kristine has been tasked with promoting the Brewery's events and social media, which is how I met her.  As soon as I found out the Brewery was inhabited, let alone by artists(!), I was all over their webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter.   This meant Kristine had to handle my barrage of gushing and pleas to speak to whomever could tell me the most about it, the lucky lady.

One of my pleas to Kristine was to allow me to come interview her about the Brewery so I could find out every little thing, but once I entered the studio she shares with a roomate in the atrium building, that interest quickly waned when the conversation turned to her own art (and besides, all of my questions were easily answered on the LA Brewery's website).

Kristine's art on first glance is a high-octane colour-fest, which clearly uses a lot of layering to create texture and dimension.  There are canvases of varying sizes all over the walls and in the loft of her studio, but on the day I was there most eyes were immediately drawn to the four life-sized mannequins in the center of the room, all covered in the same rich neon swirling patterns as what could be found on the wall  Behind the figures, there was a projected strip of film from a computer which showed more digitized figures of the same type of art, but rather than the mannequins' uniform skinny elongated figures below, these figures (which were all dancing), were of all different sizes and shapes.  It made an impressive display, and I was curious about how Kristine had arrived at this idea.  The answers went much deeper and were much more innovative than I expected.  Enough to kick my obsession with the building we were standing in out of my brain for the duration of my visit that day, and certainly enough for me to want to give Kristine a spotlight in this blog.

Close-up of Kristine's great layering technique.  Photo by LKL Studio
DWS: So what's the significance to you of these real-life models vs. the digital ones projected on the wall?

KS: Well, I've been in Second Life for over six years, and I started with my paintings; I uploaded digital copies of my paintings, and that was it - I was an artist in Second Life selling paintings.  And then when I was working on my Master's degree, I showed my Professor what I was doing with the paintings, and she saw my Avatar and started asking me, "well, who is your Avatar and why does she look the way she does?" - a very ideal version of myself.  And so I started to think about it, and I started to write tons of notes, journal, sketch - all sorts of things, and I started to see her as a self-portrait.  I had never ever done a self-portrait before, so I started researching self-portraits and what they mean; delving into identity and why my Avatar was ideal and why I created her (to look the way she did). 

DWS: What kind of things did you find in your research?

KS: Well I found research from, like, Stanford where they showed how your Avatar influences you in real life, and I thought it was so fascinating.  So I did my Masters' thesis on the relationship between me and my Avatar, it was called "My Life as an Avatar," and we had conversations, my Avatar and I, and I focused on body image, I started to really look into the media's representation of women, and how all of this influences society's perception of beauty, so that was my thesis.
Schomaker conversing with Avatar Gracie in one of the comics Schomaker created.  Image used by permission
DWS: So once you'd finished that thesis, where did you take it from there?  Now that you had all of this understanding of you vs. your Avatar?

KS: I kind of took a little break, and I started to think about other peoples' identity with their Avatars, why they chose the Avatars they did.  It made me more open about who I was in real life.  And so I decided to change my Avatar, which I hadn't done in years.  I took one of my paintings, and used it as a skin on my Avatar.  That just started something totally new.

Schomaker's Avatar, Gracie, and an art-skin Avatar
DWS: What direction did that take you?

KS: A few months after I put the painting skin on my Avatar, a friend of mine saw that Avatar and asked to buy the real-life mannequin.  So of course I said, "well there is no mannequin, this is all digital," and so then of course that led me to...

DWS: To the idea of doing the paintings on real mannequins?

KS: Yeah, I mean I'm always looking for ways of mixing realities and ways of bringing the virtual into the physical world, so this was just like "duh!"  So I went looking for mannequins, and started painting them like my Avatars.

DWS: Sorry to change the subject to technique for a moment, but I noticed that the mannequins have little drip stalactites coming off the fingers and backs.  Was that on purpose?

KS: Yes, good eye!  A lot of people don't notice that.  I noticed that the little drips were happening on the first one I did, and then on the rest of them I kind of concentrated on that, and I put more layers on because I wanted to form more of the drips.

DWS: I was hoping it was on purpose because it looks really cool.  Back to where you went next with these Avatars, though...

KS: Well because I'm focusing on body image, all the next mannequins are going to be plus-sized.  It's about being an individual and being yourself.  This whole project is called "A Comfortable Skin."  In my Masters' thesis artist statement I state that I'm not comfortable in my skin.  But now that was three years ago, and since going through this journey I really feel that I've evolved along with the project and I feel like I'm much more comfortable with who I am, inside and out.

DWS: So do you now have an Avatar that looks more like you in real life?

KS: (Laughing) No!  Well I do, but I don't use it very much.  The Avatar created from my actual self is that first one on the left (of the dancing digital models).

Still of Schomaker's dancing digital Avatars.  Used with permission

DWS: Oh yeah, because you created all of these for the project.  I have to say, that one looks like it's the happiest and having the most fun.

KS: That's what a lot of people have said, it's funny.

Its clear that Schomaker's journey to self-acceptance, much like anyone's, is still evolving.  In the meantime, she's managed to use her considerable artistic talent and great techniques, and the new and sometimes confusing reality of Second Life not only to help her on this path, but to make a point about how we view ourselves and how we wish we were.  There's no shortage of controversy surrounding Second Life these days, but the positive potential is clear with participants like Kristine: the virtual world can be used as a reflection of ourselves as well as a way to further understanding about the differences between us and accepting all the possible permutations, whether virtual, real, conscious or subconscious.  Aside from that, Kristine's a kickass artist, and I can't wait to see more from this project.

Schomaker with her models, both tangible and virtual.  Photo by LKL Studio. contains more pictures of Kristine, her work and her Avatars, and an in-depth look at "A Comfortable Skin," including the comics she created from the conversations she had with her Avatar.  Being the social media maven she is, Kristine's site gives a much better picture than I could hope to of this groundbreaking project, so make sure to check it out.
Kristine is currently showing at Tractionarts in Los Angeles.  The closing reception for her show, "Ce n'est pas une peinture" will take place on July 6, 2013.  For location and details, visit www.tractionarts.orgTo find out more about the LA Brewery or any of the artists in the collective, go to or the LA Brewery Facebook Page.

**Images from used with permission.** 

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