Axel Schmidt ‘waxes poetic’ for a unique exhibiton

Czech Position

The Golden City inspired a Bavarian artist to experiment in yellow for his new wax sculpture and photo show in Prague

Using melting glaciers and a 19th century Italian sculptor as inspiration and ice and wax as materials, what type of artwork do you think you’d get? If you are German artist Axel T. Schmidt, you get Stiffenstuff, a unique art cycle that starts with a performance and ends with a photo.

“I put holes in the ice, fill them with hot colored wax and see what happens,” Schmidt told Czech Position at the opening of his Prague exhibition at Galerie KusKovu. “Ice gives wax the shapes, but when the ice and hot wax come together, it reacts and there are new forms.”

Schmidt originally read about a 19th century sculptor who used wax casts in an Impressionist style. The idea intrigued him, but he wanted to update it. Environmental warming played a role in his thinking as well. “Melting glaciers, crashing icecaps, they brought me to the idea to use ice as the cast,” he said. “I use the products that come out, whatever they look like, same as what comes from glaciers, stones, sticks, etc.”

At the March opening in Prague, Schmidt — who comes from Bavaria — had two large blocks of ice and chose yellow wax, “as homage to the Golden City.” He drilled diagonally between the two blocks of ice, “to try and make a connection between Prague and Bavaria.”

“The most interesting moment is when I have the ideal between ice and wax — to take one photo and create a picture of the moment,” he said. “The water I can freeze again, the wax I can use again; it is perpetual movement, but the result will only be once.”

Donning a white protective suit, Schmidt stands on a small step ladder and with a massive drill begins putting holes in the ice. Two large pots of wax are bubbling nearby. When he feels there are enough holes — usually between 20 and 25 — he starts pouring pitchers of wax directly into the holes.

Slowly a maze of colors starts to emerge with the bottom seeming to fill more quickly. Pale yellow; as more wax is poured in, the cube begins to take on a golden hue. Schmidt examines the block from all angles, eventually covering the entire top of the block with wax, which begins to look vaguely like Emmentaler cheese.

“I concentrate on working on the block, drilling and filling with wax,” he said. “I keep in my head the process of sculpting and I have in my head the image I want. If I see it, I stop, take a series of photos and that’s it.”

The two sides of the cube are completely different; on one side, everything is blurred, but from the other side, the columns of color are clearer. The longer it sits, the more defined it becomes.

“The challenge will be to get the depth in the photo,” he said. “There are some unique moments when the wax hits the ice.”

Galerie KusKovu director Ivana Špicáková is focused on metal, based on her husband’s work. They’ve divided their small but well-lit space into two halves – the back is dedicated to a collection of classic and elegant art pieces such as jewelry, wall hangings, candleholders and more crafted from metal and other materials, while the front they keep open for rotating exhibitions. She said the exhibitions are freer, not tied to any one medium or style.

“Axel found us, we were showing an exhibition of another German artist, and we met to discuss his work,” Špicáková told Czech Position. “We went to one of his openings in Germany and decided to have a performance here. We liked the form and the idea, what is behind it and finally how it looks.”

What are actually on display at the gallery are large photos and “ice cakes.” The photos are of “the moment” when Schmidt is working with the wax and ice, and is as important to him as the process itself.

“I’m very interested in digital printing and I use a special technique of ultraviolet printing on glass,” he explained. There are three different printing types on display in the gallery. One is simply pigment on the back side of glass, which has evolved into isolating the print with a second piece of glass on the back, which offers translucent light in the prints. Finally, he has moved into making the photos take on the quality of a sculpture by printing the same image mirrored on both sides of the glass.

He says it is very important to have it as a standing object, so it can be seen from both sides. The fine lines of cracked ice, the colors standing stark; they are lovely pieces of art that move and change at every angle.

The “ice cakes” are the charming aftereffects of what is left when the ice is melted. Schmidt said he created the ones on display as he was practicing with color, and they are a virtual rainbow, reminding one vaguely of a birthday cake no one would want because it had too many candles.

Schmidt has two more upcoming projects, one in London and one in St. Petersburg. As an artist, he said, you are always happy to be working on something. Using the two different and difficult materials that he is can be strenuous, and not every try is successful but the work on display at Galerie KusKovu he is proud of.

“As a creative person, I’m always looking for new, unknown things,” he said. “It could be the humblest thing in the street, to use it in a new context and make it understandable for people — and the technique that transports that message is very important.”