Q & A With Artist Aili Schmeltz

Meet Los Angeles-based installation artist, sculptress and co-founder of Los Angeles Art Resource, Aili Schmeltz.  The aim of Aili’s organization is to empower local artists by providing a forum to exchange and share resources to help each other succeed.  Check it out and spread the word!

Aili kindly agreed to answer all my questions about her background, work, methods, projects, and what makes her tick.  Read on:

Tell me about background.  How did you come to be an artist?

I knew that I would be an artist from an early age. I made some important large scale drawing installations on my bedroom walls as a child.  Needless to say, my parents were less than thrilled about those pieces. I wish I could xray those walls to see the layers of drawing between the layers of cover-up paint. My family has always been supportive of my artistic pursuits and encourages me to follow my heart.

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Please describe your work.

My studio practice has two distinct categories of investigation.  The first is more of a traditional model, creating objects in my studio. The objects created in my studio are usually sculptures and drawings– some of which are rather large scale and quite involved.  The second approach is more collaborative / social / travel-based.  These works have been incorporated short films, photography, books and site specific pieces. More information on these projects can be found on my website.

What are preferred tools and materials?

I am drawn to materials with a history. I can spend hours at architectural salvage yards, junk piles and thrift stores. The transformation of old materials into new forms is fascinating.  New objects can retain the nuances of former contexts and when placed next to cleaner form, it can really make a piece sing.

I have a handful of power tools that I use for the sculptures, but most of the work is done by hand or with the help of the computer. The sculptures and drawings are very labor intensive, they usually entail hours of repetitive work.

What are the major influences behind your work?

I am very influenced by my upbringing in the suburban Midwest and my Finnish-American family. Mid-century and Scandinavian aesthetics and design drive my choice of materials, sensibilities and conceptual interests. I am also influenced by architectural elements, environmental histories and colors/forms within landscapes.

 What keeps you motivated/inspired?

I do lot of reading, looking, and being curious.  Inspirations include: old monuments,  professional and amateur architecture (amateur meaning structures created out of whatever is around, like in shanty towns and cave dwellings), fallen and future utopias, utopic philosophy, the desert mystics and cults, amulets and talismans, folklore, rocks, mid-century furniture, vintage dishes and fabrics, prisms, microscopic geometry, old wood, ruins, travel, hidden patterns that emerge out of apparent chaos, environmental history, disasters, handicrafts such as string art and macrame, spending time outdoors, and grainy photos from the 70s and 80s.

How do you take a concept from an idea to a finished piece of artwork? Please describe your creative process.

This process varies greatly from project to project. Some ideas that are in development for years, others come in a flash.  I never take one piece from beginning to end in a straight, logical line. I gather lots of images, swatches of color, writings, videos and miscellaneous stuff that may or may not have a connection to the body of work, but I sense that it somehow needs to be brought into the mix. These bits and pieces are like bees swarming around a comb.

Once I begin working on a piece, the framework shifts depending on what happens in the process.  The piece may take a dramatic turn in a totally different direction, and then I will reexamine the concept and change my strategy.  I might hit a wall and work on something else for a while, then return to it hours or days later.

Do you have a favorite piece of art or project that you’ve created?  Why does it stand out to you?

I’m really proud of the large sculptures that I made last year, Cross Cut and Spire. The sheer scale of these pieces was challenging, they were breakthrough pieces for me.  The love is in the creating for me, in trying to figure it out, to bend my mind around an unknown. It’s a different reality; time shifts and I feel completely at home, even when it’s difficult. Once the piece is complete the thrill is gone, at that point the thing is a remnant, a relic of an experience, a marker of time.

What are you presently working on? Are there any new projects in the works, or things you are interested in creating in the future?

Last summer I began working on a project in Turkey called The Lives of Cappadocia. It is presently about 50% complete. I traveled to Cappadocia and gathered research in the form of over 2,000 photographs and audio recordings of area cave dwellers.  Since my return, I have been organizing this colossal amount of information to create a rough draft of a book. I am presently fundraising so that I can complete the research and present it in its final formats:  a limited edition book, a website where viewers can interact with panoramic photographs, a CD of audio recordings, and large photographic prints.

There are always a dozen irons in the fire.  I have been experimenting with three-dimensional rendering software and playing with combining bits and pieces of different architectural details from different styles and times into these hybrid geode artifact sculptures. I am playing with a 360-degree interactive video optic for a project showing this summer, and simultaneously working on new drawings inspired by 70s pop design combined with the play from the previously mentioned 3D renderings. Plus, I have a few ideas for travel projects.

Several prints of Aili’s work can be purchased on 20 x 200, and you can see more of her work on her website, ailischmeltz.com. Follow her on Pinterest to see what’s catching her eye.

Have a favorite  artist creative you’d like to see profiled? Please email me  your suggestions!

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