A visit with Thomas Schaller at his studio in Venice, CA
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Maria Ávila
This story was featured in the May 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art May 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art May 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
Describe your studio. Over the years, I’ve worked in offices, converted bedrooms, and renovated garages. But this is the first “official” art studio I’ve ever had. It is my sanctuary. The ceilings are very tall, there are huge windows with loads of natural light, and there’s direct access to a large outdoor space. My studio is filled with the things I love—my dog, my books on art, music, and bicycles.
What elements were important to you in creating your studio? Any studio has to feel “right” for the artist who works there. For me this means doing away with a lot of the trappings of an office. I don’t want to see file cabinets or piles of business papers. I have those things, of course, but not in plain view.
Is your studio close to the ocean? My studio is about a mile from the ocean’s edge. It’s a simple bike ride or walk away. The sunsets are phenomenal. The light and weather are beyond compare. The glass walls of my studio slide open, so even while inside, it feels as if you are outside.
What is your favorite subject matter? I am constantly drawn to the tension between the natural and the man-made. Questions posed by the dialog between the architecture of man and the architecture of nature are what I am always trying to answer in my work.
What music do you play in the studio? For pastoral work that may involve large skies, for example, I prefer calm, sometimes minimal works by Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, Brian Eno, Harold Budd, and Sigur Rós. Classical works by Bach, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Brahms are favorites. I also listen to a lot of movie soundtracks. The music of Clint Mansell is a current obsession. For quicker, more energetic paintings, Nick Cave or Patti Smith will sometimes be on.
Describe the style of your work. I was trained, and I worked for years, in a highly realistic, representational style. I am most drawn, however, to very loose, abstract paintings. So I like to think of my work as a kind of abstracted realism. I think it is the job of the artist to do more than depict what he or she sees. An artist must interpret and express how he feels about what it is he sees. This is what I strive to do.
Does your dog Boomer visit the studio? My dog is always in the studio with me. He is a great assistant since he works for free. But he often seems unimpressed with my painting efforts. Boomer is a Chihuahua, but he’s not one of those tiny, yappy, shaky ones. He’s really quite cool, sophisticated, and well-traveled. Fortunately, he is very portable.
Do you keep works by other artists in your studio? I love to be surrounded by the artwork of others, far more so than my own. Among my cherished pieces are works from Joseph Zbukvic, Alvaro Castagnet, William Wray, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Josef Albers, Conrad Marca-Relli, Cyril Farey, William Walcot, David Roberts, Ned Mueller, Frank Okada, William Hook, Marc Hanson, Andy Evansen, Elizabeth Pollie, John Waters, and Carol Carter.
What is one place people will never find you? Lying on the beach. I am just not a fan. Also, I’m not likely to be found at a shooting range, but that’s another story.
Where do you like to take people when they visit? People always want to see the beautiful beach, the famed Venice canals, and what New York magazine has dubbed the “hippest street in America,” Abbot Kinney Boulevard. But after all that, I insist that they accompany me to the greatest restaurant ever—Piccolo. Almost nowhere in Italy itself can you find better Italian food or a more fantastic wine list. Visitors also have to go on a bike ride with me. It’s required.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not painting? Riding my Cervélo bike much too fast. I also love writing and do a good deal of it. Concerts, movies, theater, yoga, and spending time with my friends, family, and dog are all very important. Also, if I do say so, I throw a great party.
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