Always There, Imagine: In Conversation with Ursula Schneider

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I sat down with one Ms. Ursula Schneider, the vibrant artist and painting professor at Sarah Lawrence College, to talk about her artistic spirit and upcoming solo show, “Always There, Imagine”. Her winsome charm and amicable attitude captured me into her aesthetic world of expression. “Always There, Imagine” highlights some of her latest work (such as Hanga woodcuts and paintings) in celebration of her 28 years at SLC, and her forthcoming retirement at the end of this academic year.

Ms. Schneider’s teaching style reflects why she loves being a professor at Sarah Lawrence. On her favorite aspect of SLC, she says, “There are two things of equal importance. The first is the students, how enthusiastic, bright, and willing to go on endeavors they are. The second is the freedom we have to teach in a way that keeps us creative as teachers. We adjust ourselves to the students all the time.” And lastly, she says simply, “I love the way this school supports women”.

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Ms. Schneider has always taught painting, and she especially loves teaching beginning students. What she teaches depends a lot on the students who make up the class, as she thinks of a general goal with even more room to improvise. For this reason she no longer teaches with a syllabus, which she says is “totally not that helpful”. As the semester progresses, she introduces basic art history, shows visuals, and provides her students with artists, theories and techniques that may inspire them.

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She shared some history of the art department before Heimbold was built. The painting studios were previously located in the Black Squirrel of Bates, and down the hall across from the office of College Events. The gallery used to be where Student Affairs is located. As for the other art classes, they took place in the PAC, so in this way, everything was literally “all over the map”.

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Her own art is dynamically geometric and constantly evolving. To get in the mood to work, she explains she pushes aside all the issues evading her brain. That, and she drinks a cup of coffee. She describes her approach like being on a trail, unbeknownst to the obstacles but with seminal sense of where she’s going. She motivates herself to understand her own nature (whatever it is that moves her), and to also get away from exactly that, regroup, and look around for something else. Right now, for example, she’s trying to refrain from using red or blue. And in the end, her work has become something new.

For this show, she wanted to make something to go into the window of the gallery. What she created is Spirals, an installation of six colorful, winding “kinetic paintings”. Though inspired by sculpture, she says she’s “not a sculptor per se”; rather, these 3D works are deviations from her rejected geometric paintings. She cut out the spirals on the canvas, so that there are two hanging spirals that move in opposite directions. In this way, they spin of their own accord, incredibly un-stereotypical extensions of abstract painting.

Spirals 2013, installation of 6 kinetic paintings, 6’ x 9’, pigments, urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

Spirals 2013, installation of 6 kinetic paintings, 6’ x 9’, pigments, urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

In creating her geometric images, she starts with Adobe Illustrator, which she learned from Digital Imaging Techniques professor Shamus Clisset last fall.  She designs line drawings that become templates for her paintings, intuitively merging together the patterns, deviating into a new figure with color, and interweaving shapes to form repeating elements to “make random out of the regular”. Creating the geometric templates is like playing a game, she says. Some examples are Insect (2013) and Two Pies (2013) from her Pies and Ponds series.

Insect, 2013, 22” x 26 1/2", pigments and urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

Insect, 2013, 22” x 26 1/2″, pigments and urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

Two Pies, 2013, 15” x 20”, pigments and urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

Two Pies, 2013, 15” x 20”, pigments and urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

Many of her works are inspired by nature and its relationship with the landscape. Since “nature has regular but also irregular [elements] and repetition”, she works abstractly to “find the regular in the irregular, and vice versa”. For example, she will be showing several works from her Hudson River series, such as Fireworks Hudson River (2010) and Aster & Asteroids (2011).

"Fireworks Hudson River", 2010, 45"x94", pigment and urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

“Fireworks Hudson River”, 2010, 45″x94″, pigment and urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

Aster & Asteroids, 2011, 45” x 94”, pigment and urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

Aster & Asteroids, 2011, 45” x 94”, pigment and urethane on laminated nylon. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

As for her studio, it is located at the Garnerville Arts and Industrial Center in Garnerville, NY. For her, a studio is her “sanctuary”, her own space that is an extension of her thoughts, a place separate from where she lives. She comments on how her artwork always changes when she moves to a different studio, such as the scale of her work. She also likes working around other artists, having conversations and getting feedback. Having a studio is important to her because, for one, she doesn’t have to clean up, and for another, she can always go back to where she left off.

Although Ms. Schneider is finishing up her last year at Sarah Lawrence, we can all still look forward to seeing what she’ll make next. The Heimbold studio in which she has taught in for the last decade may not be the same without her, but she’ll forever be, undisputedly, a beloved member of Sarah Lawrence College.

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“Always There, Imagine” will be showing April 1, 2014 – April 30, 2014 at the Barbara Walters Gallery (Heimbold Visual Arts Center). Join us for the opening reception on April 1st from 5-7pm!

Photos courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence Archives and Ursula Schneider.

Kaitlyn is a senior, studying languages, philosophy and art/architectural theory. Currently making artist books.

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