When Rhonda Schoolfield paints, it gets physical. The Wilmington artist has been perfecting her practice for more than 60 years—she started painting as a young girl—but, even now, much of her work is spontaneous and conceptual.
On display through Jan. 19, the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County will showcase original acrylic and watercolor paintings by Schoolfield. The show will hang at the council’s own ACES Gallery (221 N. Front St.) downtown. The theme of the solo exhibition, titled, “Mindscapes: Interior and Exterior Visions,” is an ode to nature. It features the artist’s signature abstract landscapes.
Schoolfield, a real-estate broker by day, has a keen eye for design and is inspired by Wilmington’s changing landscape. “You’d think my work in real estate would influence my art, but it’s quite the opposite,” says Schoolfield, who, along with her husband Jim, won the 2004 Historic Preservation Award for their meticulous work restoring the Woodbury-Hoggard House at the corner of Fifth and Orange streets. That’s what happens when Schoolfield works large: She pours herself into the project. The same goes for the canvas.
“When I am working on large canvases, painting becomes this very physical action,” she tells. Her process, however, depends on the medium. When she paints with watercolor, Schoolfield prefers to flood the paper with colors. Then, she takes a step back.
“I have learned to stand back and let them interact because that’s the beauty of watercolor—to see the ebb and flow of the colors creates interesting episodes all around the paper,” Schoolfield explains.
After her colors dry, she revisits the piece four to five times—sometimes a dozen. It allows new paint to dry between each visit.
“My philosophy is to complicate it,” Schoolfield notes. “I make a composition as complicated as I can possibly make it; then I simplify it. By allowing the colors to flow freely, I am able to create things I couldn’t possibly create on my own.”
Acrylic is a whole different story. Schoolfield likes to start with a textured canvas. She uses gesso, acrylic gel mediums and pumice to create her surfaces.
“A smooth canvas bothers me because it’s very hard for me to find a smooth canvas interesting,” the artist reveals. “I like a lot of texture and depth, and I like for it to be random. I’m not trying to create patterns. I just let it happen.”
For Schoolfield, color becomes the outcome of happenstance. She describes her technique as pushing and pulling, using tools, scrapers, large brushes, and even her hands to apply layer upon layer of colors, ranging from vibrant blues to muted browns. “I believe every mark put on a canvas is part of the painting, whether you can see it or not,” she says.
Sometimes, Schoolfield’s primal predisposition for the spontaneous is so strong, it surprises even her. In her piece “Sheltered from the Storm,” the artist originally set out to paint something dark.
“[But the] brightness and light kept creeping in from the center of the painting,” she details. “I kept pushing it back, but no matter what I did, it kept coming in, so I eventually just let it happen. . . . I think it ended up quite lovely. Sometimes you just have to respect the process. Art has a mind of its own.”
Thus became her latest show: “Mindscapes.” Pieces range from small watercolors to acrylics as large as 48-inches by 36 -inches. Schoolfield wanted to keep things on the smaller side in hopes that art-goers would consider purchasing original art as gifts for the holiday season (several pieces are priced under $100). Another plus: the arts council is bending their usual rule and allowing buyers to take their pieces home upon purchase. Schoolfield has enough work in her arsenal to replace them.
Schoolfield is most excited about the charity component attached to her show. All sales go directly to local charities. The council will receive 25 percent of sales, and the other 75 percent of sales will be split equally between Friends of Felines and Adopt an ANGEL—both Wilmington charities serving dogs, cats and other animals in need. “Me and my husband have a house full of cats,” Schoolfield beams. “I feel honored that I am in a position to be able to give back.”
In this way, Schoolfield is her own piece of work: instinctive, immaterial and beautiful, on the interior and the exterior.