Mangled & altered

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Meet the Artist: Teri Schoch

By Eva Buttacavoli

Photo: Teri Schoch, View of East Second Street, 2015; wood, corroded steel, graffiti, aluminum alloy

I only met Teri Schoch a few weeks ago but I knew from the moment I saw her rusted, crushed and mangled assemblages, she would be someone I would completely dig. Her current work, hung on the exposed brick hallways leading to her studio at the Linden-Davis Building, reminded me immediately of the American sculptor Mel Edwards. Edwards’ hammer heads, scissors, locks, chains and railroad splices—employed as raw materials for his works, usually no more than a foot tall—are hung at eye level and known as metaphorical of the struggles experienced by African Americans. Schoch’s compilations, by comparison, are like the mangled and altered bits of our collective societal debris—the castaways from Dayton’s material culture. Hot button stuff. I had to meet her. So I visited her studio and we traded a few emails and wound up with one of my favorite interviews so far.

Teri’s family is from Dayton and she’s lived in the area off and on since 1954. She went to Belle Haven when, she says, “the cornerstone said ‘1954’ and the building smelled of Simple Green and Spirit Master fluid.” She remembers her first teacher-crush was a student teacher in seventh grade who had them draw Styrofoam cups and Ping-Pong balls and talked of watching the sun come up. That was 1967 and she thought for sure that was the man she would run away with. He wasn’t. Although he was her muse at 13, her first art was inspired by the spiders around her house. She drew them by the hundreds and says she still appreciates them for their shapes and lines, although she hasn’t done a spider for a few decades. Former WSU painting instructor and friend Kim Kiser said to her once, “We’re born to this [art-making]. There’s no explaining it, we just have to do it. It would be wrong not to.” Kim was/is right: no beginning, no end. Artists just do art inexplicably, because we have to.

Tell me about your early art life.

Teri Schoch: Like most children, my parents thought everything I did was blessed. But the point at which I was supposed to be defining my career, things changed. They started telling me that art was not a career. By high school they thought my desire to do art was just the teenage girl being arbitrary. Even as an adult freelance graphic designer, my mom would call on Sundays and read the employment ads to me. They never did get it. That didn’t mean I didn’t do art though. I had art teachers in elementary school that encouraged me and submitted my work to regional competitions. Meadowdale High School had a Humanities track that included immersion in the arts. Tina Flory was my art teacher and local artists who were not our teachers wandered in and out of our wing throughout the day. I found my greatest support from those teachers and artists. They made me believe that art was a viable option.

As an adult I went back to school. I thought I would get a respectable career by being a teacher but Wright State kept losing my paperwork and in my pique on the day before registration closed they lost my stuff again, I went to the art building, smelled the turps and realized I was applying for the wrong degree program. I brought a portfolio to the art department the next day, thus the BFA with a drawing and painting concentration.

I tried being respectable again later and went to school at UD to be an art teacher after doing a couple of art residencies and loving the work with high school-aged people. I never taught after earning a Masters in Art Ed. I handed in a thesis on community advocacy for art education. I realized I just wasn’t cut out for respectability.

Tell me about your workspace

TS: My space is filled with objects that remind me why I embrace poverty. Pretty much everything is more important than money and I have original art, plants, objects from nature, and the tools of all manner of art-making around me. It is also my office and a comfortable place to hang out with friends or to host meetings. There is a kitchen here, because food and drink are art forms and there are woodworking tools and metalworking gizmos and rust; boxes and boxes of found corroded metals and other bits and pieces stained by the rust and worn down by their environments.

Tell me about your typical art-making day

TS: There is no such thing as a typical day. Some days art production involves walking through the streets and alleys, along railroad tracks and parking lots looking for debris that can be a part of an assemblage. That same walking allows me to collect mental notes on textures and colors in the world. I love people, even the scary ones, and so walking the Dayton streets is an adventure-filled gathering of stories as well as landscapes. The history of anticipation, suffering, labor and play is in the streets. It is ultimately what I want to show through my work.

Some days I don’t care about the assemblages at all. I need to attack a large piece of paper with vine or pastel or pencils and erasers to get lost in a remembered, created, actual environment. Still other days I need to connect with human figures and faces and I work on portraits in oils.

How do you choose what to make?

TS: I don’t actually know where it comes from. Sometimes a client needs a particular thing. For instance the food bank needed a mural, they were very flexible and I was in the mood for vegetables, so there are giant veggies and fruits in the entryway. Other times I need to smell and feel the paint or handle some rust. If I am drawing, I start making marks or shapes and the work reveals itself as I go. I know there is more to it than that but I am never sure if I control the medium or if it is controlling me.

Ultimately, there must be something I need to “say” by showing, without words, because I am a word person as well. The materials need to become the adjectives and adverbs that convey a thought or idea.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

TS: Whatever is at hand, paper, charcoal, a camera, mud, oil paint…I don’t think I have a favorite, but I do come back to vine, graphite and found degraded materials frequently.

Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?

TS: Sometimes there is music, and often there is just the hum in my head. Generally I start working and never get around to turning on music. Music can occasionally be distracting if I start listening to lyrics or the instruments.

What do you collect?

TS: Natural objects: shells, rocks, twigs, animal parts (like wings and skulls), insects, all manner of rust and corrosion, wood. Bookplates.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

TS: An Autumn sunset. It’s the ultimate ephemeral art. Maybe a summer thunderstorm.

How do you think social media is changing the art world?

TS: Greater self-promotion seems to be the greatest benefit of social media. The Internet in general, though, has given us opportunities to see work that we might not otherwise find. A local sculptor in a village in Scotland can show his work to the world and a young painter in Dayton can be inspired to change how they work, which in turn causes an art patron to buy that new painting and causes a trend in the art markets. It all happens much quicker than it used to. This technology shows us that most ideas aren’t all that original, and that how an idea is interpreted and applied can be the difference between being a copyist, a decorator or an artist.

Eva Buttacavoli is the Executive Director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. You can reach her at Visuals@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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