Though it may not have been his original plan it seems as if Todd Schroeder, originally from Defiance, Ohio, was born to be a professor. His joy and passion towards abstract painting and the history of art shines through when he speaks to his students. When the Savannah Art Informer asked him what he liked the most about being a professor he said, “meeting people like you and [SAI photographer] Aljournal.” Most of his students describe him as a very encouraging professor who wants students to find their own freedom of expression.
Schroeder invited SAI to come visit his studio and see his most recent works, a continuation of his recent exhibition at the Jepson Center, Todd Schroeder: Brief Paintings and Other Stories. Schroeder and his collaborative partner, Bill Singer, call these works “The Newspaper Project.” The idea is to send newspapers to different artists in order for them to create installations. Though he finds it difficult to collaborate with other artists, Schroeder has come to believe that when an artist lets go of his artwork it has the potential to grow and become something more.
Like his students, Schroeder is continuously learning. He has collaborated with many artists and continues to do so; to view the projects that have been created in collaboration with other artists, see the images below.
Savannah Art Informer: What kinds of installations have the artists you’ve collaborated with created with your newspaper pieces?
Todd Schroeder: I asked two friends of mine from Cleveland, Ohio to create installations with the newspapers. They both went through the same masters degree program that I went through. Royden Watson does more painting and Timothy Callaghan combined installation and paintings. So, we chopped up a pile of fifty newspapers and worked on these installations for a day in the William Busta Gallery. We did not give them any instructions or directions, we just told them to construct something. They presented the papers in a very informational way by wallpapering the wall, which highlighted the lightness of the paper itself. These papers were originally created from phrases. We took one of the pages and digitally removed the dot and re-spelled a phrase “not enough ass to hold up my pants.” Unfortunately there was not enough space for the phrase so instead it reads as “not enough ass to hold up pa.” So they took that phrase and repeated it throughout the walls. The second installation was in the Four Hundred gallery located in Boca Raton, Florida, where Wan Hung Sun, James Jackman, and Kalin Allen cleaned out the entire gallery space and put a newspaper dispenser in the middle of [it]. They put 30 newspapers in them and encouraged the visitors to take the newspapers. It was very interactive and interesting to see people’s reactions when they saw the dot matrix.
SAI: Where did these phrases come from?
TS: I went to teach at the Savannah College of Art and Design campus in Lacoste for a term. During this time I knew that I wasn’t going to see my family for three months so I decided that I wanted to create some works in the meantime. For three days I wrote my stream of consciousness. Out of that writing I did various cut up techniques. The Dada movement and William S. Burroughs inspired most of these techniques. From those writings I extracted a handful of phrases and started to create drawings using [the] dot matrix techniques that are used on highway signs. I started turning them all into big wall drawings that were still readable. Once I finished the drawings I started re-arranging and layering them. So I treated it like an abstraction process. The phrases were originally a seeable form and I decided to break these forms up into more abstracted forms using dot matrix.
SAI: How did you go about choosing your phrases?
TS: I chose the phrases not because I thought they were good writing but because of the form of the letters. When you put the letters into the grid form they become a different aesthetic. They become completely different forms. The content behind them became insignificant but the forms became interesting to me.
SAI: Did you start off as an abstract painter?
TS: When I was young my first experience with drawing was drafting. I really saw myself as being someone who did more technical drawings. However, my high school teacher was obsessed with Mondrian. Naturally, Mondrian’s works became interesting to me because when I saw his works I would say, “ I don’t get it.” I knew that there was meaning behind his works but I didn’t know what it was. My teacher took us to the museum in Toledo and I remember seeing Matisse and being very confused by it. It piqued my interest and they really stuck with me. When I got to college my work became more political. At the time underground comics, like Raw comics, were very popular and I really enjoyed them. I was also reading Malcolm X’s biography so all my works had to do with politically minded concepts. Nowadays I’m experimenting with multiples and printmaking techniques. I’m continuing to experiment with the newspaper pieces by arranging, drawing and painting.
SAI: A lot of abstract painters start off as being naturalism painters. So much life goes into abstract painting that I believe naturalist painting techniques to be limiting. What do you think about that?
TS: I think the idea of starting off as representational and moving away from it just has to do with the way that most pedagogy are set up. When you come into a program it’s working from observation and catching the lightness that comes from the object, which, in a way, mirrors art history. It’s also beneficial, however, because you learn to handle a material. I’ve often thought about it:’What if we were to start with 1945?’, but then how would we be able to talk about Cezanne if we don’t talk about Rembrandt? It’s a matter of process and learning the basics in order to apply them to everything, including abstract works.
If you’re in Ohio, make sure to check out Schroeder’s exhibition November 21st through December 27th at the William Busta Gallery.