By Gaby Trinidad
Maria Schlomann is a Boston-based artist who has been working at Gateway Arts since 2013. However, her artistic career extends far beyond that when she first walked through Gateway’s doors.
Schlomann first became interested in art between the ages of 10 and 11 years old. It was at this time she realized she had a knack for art and she became more seriously interested in her teenage years. Since then, Schlomann has developed personally and professionally in profound ways and Gateway Arts has definitely been a big part of that development.
It was not Schlomann who found Gateway but her mother, who suggested it to her as a way to help her through her mental health struggles. Beginning at Gateway in the midst of a rough response to medication, she found it to be a safe space where she could dive into her passions.
“When you’re out in the world, it’s [mental illness] not something you can really talk about with most people. Here, there’s a community of people who are all into the same stuff you are. People here are exploring themselves through art and healing through art and we’re all dealing with similar stuff,” Schlomann said.
People, mostly women, and Schlomann’s feelings about mental health are the usual subject matter of her pieces. Mental health, specifically, has a profound impact on her work.
“I’m almost, in some cases, illustrating what it’s like to have a mental illness. It helps me in a big way. I feel, again, it’s not something you can talk about with people. I think painting about it makes it a bit more accessible or a little more acceptable. It’s cathartic, in a way,” she said.
That catharsis now is a signature style of graphite pencil drawings and acrylic-on-canvas paintings. It took time to learn how to do the grayscale, blending, and light and shadow before she really felt confident in her composition skills. That confidence lends itself to a preference for black and white pieces that rarely, if ever, incorporate color. To Schlomann, part of the attraction of using black and white is its contrast to what she describes as a very gray and nuanced world.
Indeed, Schlomann’s view of the world isn’t too black and white, and what inspires her art isn’t either. Often, her artistic ideas stem from wherever her dreams take her.
“I’ve always illustrated dreams and stories. I think very visually, so I think it’s how I process my life and the world around me,” Schlomann said. She kept a dream notebook on and off in childhood but began writing her dreams down again more consistently in the past three years to capture particularly distinctive dreams.
However, dream-inspired canvas pieces are not the only kinds of art Schlomann makes at Gateway. She’s learned how to paint and make jewelry such as necklaces out of polymer clay that she herself sometimes wears.
In learning these new mediums, Schlomann has grown to understand her capability for learning, which wasn’t something she was sure of after having spent some time away from school in her youth due to her mental health. Along with building confidence in herself, she has also found meaningful friendships and a place to interact with others who sometimes don’t “have socially acceptable diseases,” which has made her feel isolated in the past.
As has become painfully clear, isolation has been the theme of the past year plus since the Covid-19 pandemic changed life in an unprecedented fashion. For Schlomann, despite her dreams being as “bizarre as they always been,” the world around her has become just as bizarre. The world’s current state, COVID and otherwise, prompted a more politically and socially conscious creative artistic direction. As well, she’s working on a personal mythology series of pieces ranging from Egyptian, to Norse, and Greek mythology, to name a few. Besides selling her two-dimensional work through the Gateway Arts store, she also sells bags she makes. Creativity, particularly, is what is keeping her afloat in lieu of normalcy.
In the time that Gateway Arts has been closed (and only recently reopened), Schlomann has been keeping the creativity alive through canvas drawings, jewelry making, painting, and writing, another art form she’s long been passionate about. Going on hikes near her apartment complex and cooking are other outlets for expression she’s been exploring.
Her work has been featured in multiple venues like the Barney’s NY Gallery at the Chestnut Hill Mall in Brookline, MA and in Art New England magazine. Despite feeling vulnerable to have such a personal reflection of herself on display, Schlomann also has a sense of pride.
“For me it was nerve-racking, sort of thinking, ‘What are people thinking when they’re looking at it? What kind of questions are they asking?’ You know, when you have something that’s that personal, it’s a full mixture of feelings,” she said.
No matter the form or presentation of Schlomann’s art, her hope is that it will encourage people to critically think about the world and their role within it.
“I see it as a dialogue–art, writing–between human beings. I almost feel like we inspire each other. I want my art to inspire people, to make them question their own beliefs or prejudices they hold about other people or about the world. I want people to really think about life.”