The crux for me is determining where the art truly “happens.” Is it during its creation, its perception, or the interplay between the two?

— Reinhard Schmid

In this candid and insightful interview, Reinhard Schmid, an established artist with a career spanning over three decades, delves deep into his artistic evolution, the dichotomies of traditional and digital art, and the philosophical underpinnings of creativity.

From his early interests in surrealism and Art Nouveau to embracing the possibilities of Web 3 and digital art platforms, Schmid offers a rare glimpse into the mind of a versatile creator at the intersection of two worlds.

Brady Walker: Reinhard Schmid, thank you for joining me today. For those unfamiliar with your work — they must not have been in web3 for long — can you introduce yourself?

Reinhard Schmid: Thank you for having me. I’ve been a German professional artist in traditional art for 35 years and have been involved in digital art since the early 90s.

[Hackatao REMIXME] Smackatao by Reinhard Schmid

The Early Days

BW: When you transitioned to digital art, what programs were you using in the early 90s? What prompted that shift?

RS: Back then, the options were limited. I used a vector-based program called Freehand and a very early version of Photoshop, among some basic image editors. My first computer was a Mac Classic with a nine-inch black and white screen. It was basic: you’d draw lines with a mouse and fill shapes with color. Scans looked odd on my black-and-white screen, especially with the low resolution. Photoshop had no layers. If you wanted to overlay something, you had to manually cut it out, pixel by pixel. It was wild.

BW: What made you continue with digital art in those early days? It must have been challenging.

RS: It wasn’t as frustrating as you’d think because it was all we knew. I saw it as an adventure, anticipating better things on the horizon. We mainly did text, layout for print, and such. The art was basic, but even with those limited tools, it had its own unique charm.

Motifs and Machines

BW: I want to ask you about some of your recurring motifs and characters. First, what is the Venusmachine?

RS: The Venusmachine is a concept I’ve used to describe my work. I’ve done a few paintings named Venusmachine. It combines sensual, feminine aspects with hard, technical masculine elements.

Prima Ballerina in Motion by Reinhard Schmid

BW: Who is SmackMan and where did he originate?

RS: SmackMan is a figure I’ve become known for in web3. Initially, I used scans of my traditional art for digital work. There was a painting with SmackMan’s head as just one element among many. I digitally isolated that head, placed it in various contexts, animated it, and over time, it began to develop its own identity.

BW: SmackMan has no jaw, right?

RS: It’s as if you could open your mouth very wide, cover your lower teeth with your lips, and hence they wouldn’t be visible. That’s the idea. If you lower your jaw to that extent but still conceal your teeth with your lip, that’s how he appears.

BW: Given how often you’ve created this figure, you’ve probably pondered that absent jaw a lot.

RS: I don’t see it as missing. If he had teeth on the lower jaw, he wouldn’t be as iconic. I believe it’s the slight abnormality that makes people take a second look. There’s a subtle element in my work where I present something that seems correct but isn’t quite right. It urges the viewer to reconsider, to identify what’s unsettling.

Moving SmackMan I by Reinhard Schmid

BW: Can you provide another example of when you’ve done that?

RS: Certainly. I’m fond of machinery. For example, I might draw a steam engine where I deliberately arrange the levers so they can’t make a full turn. At first glance, you might not notice. But upon closer inspection, you’d realize the levers would lock before completing their rotation.

BW: Your artwork often features these magical flying machines that resonate with a Jules Verne or steampunk aesthetic. How did this theme emerge, and where did your interest in creating them originate?

RS: My fascination with mechanics and machinery began at an early age. Jules Verne was always a favorite author of mine. But when I depict machine parts, they might be simple components like discs, hinges, or levers. They often convey a deeper message and aren’t necessarily a complete machine.

BW: I’m drawn to “Olimpia II” – a striking piece with a unique inspiration. Can you tell me about its origin and how it came to be?

RS: E.T.A. Hoffmann is a beloved author of mine. Writing nearly 200 years ago, he explored concepts that today might be likened to science fiction. He was captivated by the notion of a cyborg, then referred to as an automaton – a mechanical being. In his time, without electronics, these creations were envisioned as intricate clockworks. Any functionality beyond mechanics was attributed to magic. The blending of mechanics and human form in an artificial entity resonates deeply with me. It’s a quintessential embodiment of the Venusmachine concept.

Olimpia-II by Reinhard Schmid

BW: In the novel you’re referencing, there’s a story of a beautiful woman perceived as perfect, especially in a patriarchal context. She rarely spoke and seemed to be in awe of things. By the end, it’s revealed that her perfection is due to her being an automaton.

RS: Exactly. Many saw her true nature, but he was so enamored that he overlooked it. He believed she completely understood him. Unfortunately, it all took a tragic turn.

BW: I’d like to discuss another piece from MakersPlace that I particularly admire – “Luna”. Created for your solo exhibition in Dusseldorf, it seems to encapsulate many of your recurring themes. It feels like a retrospective in just 25 seconds. Was that your intent?

RS: My main goal was to capture the essence of a dream, its surreal nature, and how it seamlessly jumps between scenes with no clear connection. The recurring themes and atmosphere are derived from my own repetitive dream, particularly prevalent in my youth. I wanted to encapsulate that specific ambiance.

Luna by Reinhard Schmid

From Idea to Medium

BW: When conceptualizing a piece, especially when the idea comes first, how do you decide on the medium? How do you determine if it’s suited for digital, oil painting, or sous verre?

RS: I usually know the medium before I start. I frequently work on commission, so clients often specify if they prefer oil or sous verre, deciding the medium early on. At times, I explore multiple mediums for a single idea – drawing it on paper, then on glass, and maybe transitioning to oil. I also sometimes blend traditional and digital elements or work entirely digitally.

BW: What’s your process of variation? Do you always begin with an idea, or do you sometimes explore without one?

RS: The picture often changes as I progress, but the basic idea is usually there from the start. Sometimes, when I’m somewhere with just a scrap of paper, I’ll quickly sketch an idea to remember it. These ideas often stay with me for a long time. When it comes to commissioned pieces, those who know my work give me considerable freedom. They might offer a basic concept, and I’ll ponder on it for weeks, even months. After sketching and discussions, there’s usually a moment when it feels just right. From there, I delve into the details and assemble the piece.

BW: Do you have many ideas in the backlog you haven’t tackled yet?

RS: Yes. There are works I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve prepared for them, like taking reference shots with models. They’re waiting for when I have the time.

Born Star by Reinahrd Schmid

BW: I’m curious about your traditional art practice. How did you develop your unique technique, especially since it’s based on a longstanding method?

RS: Sous verre is an ancient technique, especially popular in Europe, Asia, and Russia. It’s commonly used for icons. The traditional approach results in a very two-dimensional appearance because the art is on the backside of the glass, eliminating visible brushstrokes. I found this very limiting.

My father introduced me to using pencils, and I then integrated watercolors and oils. Using transparent pigments, I created a semi-transparent layer. Instead of sealing it with paint, I’d place another board or glass piece behind, creating a slight gap. This gives the artwork significant depth, contrasting it from the traditional appearance.

BW: Was your father a painter?

RS: Yes, I learned much from him. My great-grandfather painted theater stages, while my grandfather carved patterns into crystal glass.

BW: Like etching?

RS: Exactly. My mother is also artistic, as was my godfather, a graphic designer and a skilled painter. I grew up surrounded by artists.

Sweet Dreams by Reinhard Schmid

From Sketches to Screens

BW: I’ve looked at many of your paintings, though they seem less available online than your digital works. What themes or elements do you explore in your traditional art that might not appear in your digital pieces? What would your friends in web3 find surprising about your physical paintings?

RS: It’s interesting that you perceive them as so distinct. One main difference is the potential for animation in digital pieces. Digital tools allow me to make the artwork more dynamic, adding motion and sound, appealing to more senses than just sight. My traditional art, having evolved over 35 years, has changed significantly. In my early years, I was drawn to surrealism and Art Nouveau, as well as early 20th-century aquatics. My style has fluctuated, at times being quite sketchy, representing rough ideas. If I wanted to learn a particular technique, I’d seek out an artist proficient in it and learn from them. It’s a journey of constant evolution.

BW: Reflecting on your early digital art experiences, when the tools were quite basic, can you recall the first digital artwork you felt was a complete piece, not just experimentation?

RS: It was much later because initially, digital tools were more about refining designs. I’d sketch an idea and if I wanted to adjust an element’s size, I’d use the computer to scan, resize, and print. This process was more mechanical than artistic. I often used digital tools, like vector graphics programs, to set up and plan for my traditional artworks.

Sac Surprise by Reinhard Schmid

That’s Not Evel Knievel

BW: I’m drawn to your painting of Evel Knievel. It seems unique as I haven’t observed many famous figures in your collection. Was this piece commissioned?

RS: When did I paint Evel Knievel?

Fly With Me by Reinhard Schmid

RS: That’s not Evel Knievel. That’s a self-portrait titled Fly with Me. It’s possible someone could have mislabeled it or used a different name elsewhere.

BW: I came across that piece on your website, but it didn’t have a title there. It reminded me of Evel Knievel. Can you talk about it? I haven’t seen many self-portraits of yours.

RS: It’s the only self-portrait I’ve done. I created it for the international artists group based in Hong Kong and France. Every year, they present a theme for their artists, typically focusing on large paintings. Those who participate unveil their work at the Grand Palais in Paris during the prestigious Art on Capitol event. For the group’s 10th anniversary, the theme was “self-portrait.” So, every artist had to create a self-portrait, and that was mine.

BW: Can you explain the elements in the painting? I recall a helmet, a golden bug, maybe a scarab beetle or a moth, and shooting stars.

RS: I aimed to capture a 1970s vibe, reminiscent of the movie “Easy Rider.” I’m passionate about motorcycles, hence the helmet. The beetle or mechanical moth symbolizes the feeling of flying when riding a motorcycle, and the inevitable bugs that hit you.

I’m holding a flower in one hand, representing my love for aesthetics and beauty. The flower has mechanical parts, alluding to my work. In my other hand, I hold what I call the “go sign,” resembling a large lollipop with a spiral. It came about during a time when people around me seemed to always say “no” to my ideas. I envisioned the spiral as a positive twist to the negative “no,” advocating for a more proactive approach to life.

From Walls to Wallets

BW: You delved into the digital art realm in 2018 and were among the pioneering artists on Makerspace. Did you have any preconceptions from the traditional art world that you had to reassess in this new domain?

RS: Initially, I viewed it more as an adventure than a serious endeavor. I made the first purchase on Makerspace for something like $10. At the time, no one really believed it could be a sustainable income source. The excitement was primarily about the novelty—seeing art in my digital wallet was thrilling. But as the platform evolved, it became a viable avenue for artists to earn.

My experience was unique due to my background in traditional art. I enjoyed the initial anti-establishment sentiment in the digital space, where creators hoped to revolutionize art distribution. However, as it evolved, some individuals gained significant control, making the digital landscape not so different from the traditional one for me.

Lady Skates by Reinhard Schmid

BW: Apart from creating art, any guidance for those navigating Web 3 to advance their careers?

RS: That’s a tough question. Recently, I discovered the Makerspace Launchpad, which connects budding artists with seasoned ones, allowing for an exchange of ideas and experiences. I’d also suggest collaborating with an agent. In my traditional art, having an agent helps handle the sales aspect, allowing me to focus on creation. It’s a blessing to find someone skilled, connected, and genuinely passionate about your work, which I’ve been fortunate enough to find.

BW: Feel free to share details if you wish.

RS: I’ve been lucky to connect with Julian (AnimusNFT). He’s an accomplished art collector and now an influential figure in Web 3. What stands out about Julian is his discerning eye for art and deep understanding of its value. The artists he collaborates with are exceptional, and I’m honored to be among them.

BW: How do you envision your career? Do you have a long-term vision for your body of work, or do you take it project by project?

RS: I find it hard to believe when someone says they never think about their legacy. Naturally, artists aspire to succeed, which means commercial success, recognition, and earning a living from their craft. The more known you are, the smoother things become. Yet, I fall somewhere in between. There are limits to what I’d do for fame. I’ve already achieved significant milestones and am fortunate to earn from what I love. If I can continue to create and sustain this, I’m overjoyed.

BW: Describe a day in your life.

RS: After a brief morning routine, I head straight to my studio, skipping breakfast for just tea. I pick up where I left off. When deeply engrossed in a painting, it’s hard to pinpoint when to pause; sometimes it’s merely exhaustion that stops me. The next day, filled with anticipation, I resume. Later, I break for tasks like social media, though I admit I’m not the best at it. Most of my day is consumed by creating.

Happy SmackMan IV by Reinhard Schmid

BW: Do you focus on one art piece at a time or juggle multiple projects?

RS: I typically have a few works in progress, often with one primary piece, especially with larger oil paintings. Depending on the drying process, I might shift my attention elsewhere. But certain events or deadlines demand I prioritize certain projects. So while I might toggle between pieces, I’m not dividing my day among numerous projects. It’s more segmented by days or periods.

Waxing Philosophical: What is Art?

BW: I’ve been pondering a few semi-philosophical questions. One that I’ve discussed with several people is: does art serve a purpose? And if so, what might that be?

RS: Early in my career, I stumbled upon a quote, though I can’t recall the source, which claimed, “If it serves a purpose, it’s not art.” Personally, I have traditional pieces and a modest collection of NFTs. I derive pleasure from viewing or listening to them. 

Some pieces are deeply evocative and almost nightmarish, prompting introspection and emotion. While some people approach art analytically, I don’t. I recently mentioned in a discussion that my connection to art is emotional. Sometimes the inspiration for a piece manifests as an image or sensation rather than a clear-cut concept.

I’m not very analytical, and expressing these thoughts in words, especially given language barriers, is challenging for me. I tend to perceive things on a different level.

Dragonfish by Reinhard Schmid

BW: I appreciate that perspective. Especially compared to the academic or overly conceptual approaches. In college, I was drawn to conceptual artists like Donald Judd whose essays overshadowed their art. But I more and more value the intuitive side. Analyzing art too deeply might not always be beneficial when it comes to the actual creation process. 

With the rise of AI, there’s renewed debate on defining art. Many question whether AI-generated works can even be classified as art. From your perspective, beyond the idea that art doesn’t serve a purpose, how would you describe it?

RS: This question has perplexed thinkers greater than myself for ages. The definition is subjective, varying between artists and audience members. Upon encountering art, we invariably compare it to our personal experiences.

The crux for me is determining where the art truly “happens.” Is it during its creation, its perception, or the interplay between the two?

BW: Is there anything about art, creativity, or the creative process that you wish you’d known earlier?

RS: I wish I had acquired the skills I have now 20 years earlier. The ability to accurately express my ideas was always a desire. Today, I feel much closer to that aspiration than when I began.

BW: I believe many professionals, after advancing in their careers, look back wondering about the potential of their earlier selves, given the skills they possess now. On a slightly different note, and we can decide whether to include this later, I’m looking to interview more collectors and curators. 

RS: Certainly, I’d suggest the guys from the flux collective. There are three, with Frank being the primary spokesperson. However, JJ might be your best contact. They’re a group of German NFT enthusiasts, also responsible for the neon rail gallery in Dusseldorf. They’re deeply connected to Germany’s art scene, including museums, and have many intriguing projects underway.

BW: That’s interesting. They were involved in your Dusseldorf exhibit, weren’t they?

RS: Yes, they’ve been significant supporters. They also manage the SMAC main coin, which has varying rarities. The legendary hasn’t been minted yet, for those interested. Eleonora Brizzi would also be a compelling choice for you to interview.

For updates on all of our upcoming artist spotlights, subscribe to our newsletter below.