Interview with Mixed Media Artist Veronica SchaibleA skull-headed woman in a high-necked gown cries through the cracked eye socket where she just shot herself. A bright pink bunny slumps like a despondent teenager, surrounded by depressing swirls of gray. Winged hearts crack open, spilling objects like blood: timepieces, coins, cakes, architecture and sculpture — images that suggest both pleasure and pain.
Veronica Schaible’s artwork reflect both pain and whimsy. They’re personal works: raw and vivid and filled with emotion and color. Her latest, a series of sculpted masks, evoke some of her earliest memories of art in her family home — a welcome return to her roots after a difficult few years trying to rediscover her identity as an artist.
The youngest of four children, Schaible grew up in Southern California, drawing on notebook paper until the family’s stock was all gone.
“At a very young age, when someone asked me what I wanted to be, it was either a) an artist or b) a paleontologist,” Schaible laughed.
She ended up choosing art, drawn from evocative material such as the Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” celebrations and other motifs from Mexican culture as well as Native American work, from jewelry to war paint.
“My mom is quarter Cherokee, and there was always Native American artwork around the house,” she said. “Not like a bunch of dream catchers or feathers everywhere, but looking back, I definitely remember the prints and my uncle’s sculptures being Native/Mesoamerican.”
An aunt, who taught ceramics classes out of her studio in Topanga Canyon, exposed her to sculpture.
“I think [my aunt's] ability to teach a broad range of ages how to keep their creativity while still creating solid pieces was a gigantic blessing because most art teachers I’ve encountered sacrifice one for the other,” Schaible said.
She started to pursue art seriously after a stint at Fullerton Community College, where she met artist Justin Sweet, who was an Artist in Residence at the time.
“I was watching him paint in oil this book cover that was already past the deadline and I just felt, I don’t know, a click, or like something was switched on,” Schaible said. “I thought, ‘God, I really want to be able to do that.’ It was definitely a religious experience.”
Unfortunately, Schaible’s own formal art training was less fulfilling. A 2009 graduate of San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, she found herself disillusioned by a changing art market and a skill set that already felt out of date.
“I can draw and paint in various mediums but where the industry was going and where my portfolio was at the time were worlds apart,” she said.
After graduation, she didn’t draw or paint for nearly a year, and it wasn’t until she started sharing studio space with a former instructor who lived in her neighborhood that she became excited to create again.
“The charge was back,” she said. “I could be silly in my paintings or concepts and there was no critique. I finally stopped worrying about the critique from everyone else and let all the education I had acquired take over without any real thought. I can critique my pieces now and not feel a sense of doom because I own my pieces, I do something and there is a purpose behind it. People may not agree with or like it, but that’s why it’s mine.”
Quoting actor Gary Oldman, who she calls “a consummate artist,” she offered what could well be a motto for her current approach to her work: “What others think of me is none of my business.”
Art Animal: What draws you to sculpture? What’s the appeal of working in three dimensions as opposed to painting?
Veronica Schaible: It’s very tactile. I like creating space and form in that way. Also, and I’m not speaking of Industrial design, but sculpture is the only visual art that doesn’t have a digital replacement. You can digitally paint what a sculpture looks like but it’s still just a painting.
AA: Can you tell us your current interest in masks?
VS: It stems from my love of Iroquois masks, totem poles, masquerade masks, face paint. Really, a way to hide the face people know with one they don’t. Masks have power, they are freeing, empowering. I think of Mayan culture and the sacrificial masks, war paint, Iroquois masks or to be more current, Halloween masks. The power and freedom comes from the mask so you can be completely frightening, intimidating, angelic, mischievous. You become someone or something else, and harness all the things you want and are to afraid to with your naked face.
AA: Would you say that you have particular topics or themes that you always return to in your artworks?
VS: I seem to always put a skull or something skeletal in my pieces. Some have said I have an obsession with death, which I guess is partially true, but how can you forget, really, that this is all extremely temporary?
I return a lot to change, impermanence, pain. I had a pretty rough start to life, so I think I’m always in some form or fashion returning to my concept of pain and change. It’s important, and people as a whole run from experiencing it, like it’s el cucuy (the boogeyman). Pain is the main agent of radical change. I find it absurd, this dance society does around pain, ignoring those mired in it, pretending that if you experience anything other than contentedness, happiness, being pleasant, then you’re a weirdo or a whiner.
AA: What are you working on these days? What are you excited about?
VS: I’m excited to finish up “Prolapse Murmur,” a large painting that has become one of my favorites. There’s also a new mask piece that I actually want to be able to wear, unlike “Transition,” which is too heavy and uncomfortable to wear. I’m mostly excited about how I feel. This is the first time in too many years I feel hopeful for an actual future in art.
AA: You’ve also worked in an art gallery. What did you learn from that experience?
VS: Galleries take risks with artists and artists take risks with galleries. They may not sell any of an artist’s work and it’s not the price point or the craftsmanship. It can be as simple as location and finding a niche market. Also, it’s a large financial risk, especially if you don’t have a buyer list or a location with heavy traffic.
AA: What do you think about illustration as a career? Has the digital age made life easier or harder for illustrators?
VS: The digital age, overall, in my opinion, has made it easier for bad design to overwhelm the market and lacks feeling. You can tell when most pieces are digital — speaking specifically when someone is painting in Painter or Photoshop for painting purposes. It’s sad because there is something lost in translation. I don’t know. For all the advantages of digital, the largest drawback for me is when files or layers disappear, systems crash or the computer dies. The work is just gone. Gone! It is so heartbreaking when you put so many hours and something you love and care for and it’s disappeared in some sort of evil magic. I think unless you have a special understanding of digital painting and own what you do, you should just stick to the physical realm.
AA: How are you developing your skills and building a career post-graduation?
VS: My career as it is has taken a huge back seat to my financial circumstances, which have been extremely depressing for me for the past three years; but things are turning around. I feel the sun peeking through all the thick clouds.
I’m finishing up a body of work that focuses on and deconstructs what the heart means. It’s become a very one-dimensional symbol but it’s so much more and means so much more to me. Plus, I’ve gotten back into sculpting, so I’m hoping to market a show with both paintings and sculptures to galleries soon.
AA: What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps as an artist?
VS: Do your research on art schools. Explore whatever you want, how you want and don’t think too hard about it. You know more than you think you do.