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In ‘Celestial Abstractions,’ painter Benjamin Schmitt dreams in enamel

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The vibrant, abstract work of Benjamin Schmitt at Priscilla Fowler Fine Art.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

'Celestial Abstraction' at Priscilla Fowler Fine Art

Some people come home from work and relax with a drink or a smoke. Benjamin Schmitt paints.

“I just want to go for it,” Schmitt says. He’ll start with a sketch of an oil slick or a raindrop under a piece of glass. Then he’ll project that onto a wood panel and riff off the image. “I let my paintings tell me what to do. I want to go in the studio and take a ride.” That ride can last till the wee hours of the morning. “I get very little sleep, but it works for me.”

The resulting paintings are shiny, vibrant and abstract—like a disco inkblot test. Schmitt’s bright, contrasting colors and squiggly lines create a sense of movement. His material of choice is an enamel made for professional sign painters. Schmitt loves its hard-candy texture.

In Celestial Abstractions, Schmitt’s new solo show at Priscilla Fowler Fine Art, the paintings will keep you guessing. They could be microscopic bacteria on a slide or deep-space nebula. Preferring the otherworldly definition of “celestial,” Schmitt is interested in exploring themes of the “extraterrestrial, unknown, abstract and foreign.” Indeed, each painting whisks the viewer away into some other place.

Back when he was an art student, Schmitt was trying to bridge the gap between art and the medical field. His source material: diseases under a microscope. But as his eye developed over the years, Schmitt’s subjects evolved, becoming more vague. He’ll still start with molecules and biological structures, but then he’ll morph it into something completely different. He’s inspired by maps, geography, views from airplane windows, water and land masses and even typography. “I don’t like hard angles,” Schmitt says. “I like more fluid forms.”

By day, Schmitt leads the installation department at Global Art Transport. That means he spends his time hanging everything from family photos to Blue Chip art, like pieces by Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol. The proximity to such greatness constantly inspires Schmitt. For example, he loves portrait painter Chuck Close. And Schmitt’s self-portrait—the only figurative piece in Celestial Abstractions—resembles Close’s globular painting style. “He’s one of my favorites,” Schmitt says. “Only he’s way more detailed and meticulous than me.”

Schmitt dreams of one day branching out into sculpture. But it’s hard for him to find time for new projects amid his responsibilities, which include two young children. If one thing could help him as an artist, it’d be more time to create. And to get that, he says he—and the rest of the Vegas art scene—needs one thing: “More patrons. We need more people who invest in artists, who buy emerging art.”

Benjamin Schmitt: Celestial Abstractions Through January 27, Wednesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Priscilla Fowler Fine Art, 1025 S. 1st St., 719-371-5640. Receptions November 2-3, 5-9 p.m., free.

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