Battle Creek artist Xenia Rose Schafer likes people, and it shows in her portraits.
[Xenia Schafer] “People have so much depth. It’s like all that knowledge and experience they’ve accumulated for the years they’ve been alive. It’s fascinating to talk to older people or to younger people—their take on life. ‘Oh, yeah, I remember when I used to think that.’ Or ‘Remember when you used to listen to the sunset sizzle on the water?’ But people are just so different.”
Schafer’s paintings will be in the Black Arts and Culture Center in Kalamazoo as part of the Annual Minority Women Exhibition. Schafer paints realistic and interpretive portraits. In her interpretive paintings, Schafer paints her subject through her own lens.
[Xenia Schafer] “It can be anything from accentuating an expression to a total, fantastical thing like making someone into a mermaid.”
After feeling stuck trying to paint one of her models, Schafer turned her model from a blonde woman in a restaurant to a long-haired mermaid sitting on a beach at sunset. The painting is full of bold oranges, blues, and pinks. Schafer says she uses color to match a painting’s mood. In her portrait of an 9-year-old girl, the background is more muted. It put emphasis on the girl’s oddly serious expression. Schafer says the girl is usually very animated, which is what struck her about the photo.
[Xenia Schafer] “She’s looking at a sailboat, but she’s so serious about her looking at it. It’s out of character for a kid to be that serious. But it was very interesting, it was just very serene when she looked at it. Even though she’s squinting, it was a quietness that came over her.”
Schafer says she leaves a little mystery in her paintings to create a dialogue. In “The Hunter,” Schafer depicts a man with a gun, his eyes partially hidden underneath a baseball cap. It’s hard to tell if the man is ready to shoot or just cleaning his gun.
[Xenia Schafer] “I like having a duality and like a ‘what if?’ For instance, is this a sinister picture or is this just a calm, quiet moment? There’s that question.”
But Schafer doesn’t just like to paint people, she also likes helping people in her community. Four years ago, Schafer and other artists from the Battle Creek Society of Artists donated about 50 works of art to a the local homeless shelter, Inasmuch House. About 16 artists collaborated on uplifting and serene art pieces to hang in the rooms. Unlike many community art projects, the artists would not have their work displayed in public.
[Xenia Schafer] “It was such a heartfelt project that they really didn’t mind that. It was something that really made them feel…helping humanity. Helping a very sterile environment look warm and friendly and let them know that there’s people that really care about you enough to paint a picture for you.”
Schafer and the Battle Creek Society of Artists are working on a new project called ‘Pieces of Peace.’ The artists will work with young adults from Voces Community & Cultural Center in Battle Creek to make a welcoming gift for Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu. Menchu will visit Kalamazoo during the PeaceJam Conference on the weekend of April 21st.
Each kid will create a work of art that represents what they think it means to be Latino. That project will be at the Kalamazoo Art Hop in June. But for now, you can check out Xenia Schafer’s work at this month’s Art Hop in the Black Arts and Culture Center.