Experimenting with Shapes and Colours

with works by Karl Schmid (1914-1998)

The Pleasure of Experimentation

In the last decades of his life (70'-90' years of the 20th century), Karl Schmid's paintings came increasingly alive with bright and intense colors.
He enjoyed experimenting all the time and spent hours and hours combining various pigments together to get that exact color, as he was looking for.
Initially he painted with traditional techniques such as oil, tempera or watercolour, ...

Spiritual Work (orig. Spirituelles Werk) (1986) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

... but since the 1970s, he has mainly used pigments mixed with acrylic binders because they were stronger, brighter and more covering and could therefore be used on any surface.


To find suitable colours for painting on iron, for example, he experimented with various techniques and combinations, such as nitro solvent enamels along with water-based acrylics.

Spiritual Work (orig. Spirituelles Werk) (1990/1998) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

Karl Schmid had an almost "scientific" approach to color composition. He used powdered pigments, which he mixed with various types of binders or thinners. He rarely used ready-made colours.

Spiritual Work (orig. Spirituelles Werk) (1990/1998) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

Untitled (1990/1998) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

Abstract Compositions

With regard to shapes, he created abstract compositions, executed with extreme clarity and precision, using pure colours with flat drafting ...

... geometric shapes and repeating mysterious symbols.

Memories of a Mother (orig. Erinnerungen einer Mutter) (1980/1989) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

Untitled (1970/1979) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

Elements Derived from the Semicircle

In this painting, two shades of blue divide the background, which is animated by shapes drawn from the semicircle. The two-dimensionality present in the right side, is interrupted by the arrangement of elements on the left, generating an effect of depth.

Gold and Silver

Through the use of gold and silver, Karl Schmid animates with iridescent effects the balanced pattern of various geometric elements, played on forms derived from the circle and the square.

Untitled (1970/1979) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

In this abstract composition with horizontal progression, composed of a series of geometric shapes and multicolored symbols ...

Untitled (1980/1989) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

Untitled (1980/1989) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

... a circular element with warm tones dominates the scene and evokes the image of a setting sun.

Three-Dimensional Effects

In the following composition, the diagonal course of lines predominates.

Untitled, Karl Schmid, 1980/1989, From the collection of: USI Università della Svizzera italiana
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Untitled (1980/1989) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

As the light changes, the gold and silver collages create three-dimensional effects.

Light and Shadow

In this small painting on iron, Karl Schmid effectively renders the impression of light and shadow by separating warm tones from cold ones with a diagonal.

Light and Shadow (orig. Licht und Schatten), Karl Schmid, 1993, From the collection of: USI Università della Svizzera italiana
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Although the space occupied by the shadow is larger, it is the bright part that captures our attention.

Light and Shadow (orig. Licht und Schatten) (1993) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

Light and Shadow (orig. Licht und Schatten) (1993) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

Karl Schmid interprets the play between light and shadow in the following way:
"The whole meaning, the light and darkness of our existence, which an artist entrusts to the lines of his drawing, is an integral part of his life and work." (Karl Schmid)

Two Twin Paintings

These two "twin" paintings in acrylic paint on metal were made by Karl Schmid at the age of 83, a year before he died.

Painting in Acrylic Paint on Metal - in predominantly cool tones, Karl Schmid, 1997, From the collection of: USI Università della Svizzera italiana
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Painting in Acrylic Paint on Metal - in predominantly warm tones, Karl Schmid, 1997, From the collection of: USI Università della Svizzera italiana
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Despite his advanced age, by enlarging the paining we can admire the mastery of his hand, which, in the even spreading of the brushstroke and the perfect definition of the boundaries between different colours, is still incredibly firm.

Painting in Acrylic Paint on Metal - in predominantly warm tones (1997) by Karl SchmidUSI Università della Svizzera italiana

We conclude with these three paintings that highlight the intense colours, geometric shapes, and combination with the collage technique.

Untitled, Karl Schmid, 1990/1998, From the collection of: USI Università della Svizzera italiana
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Untitled, Karl Schmid, 1980/1989, From the collection of: USI Università della Svizzera italiana
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Spiritual Work (orig. Spirituelles Werk), Karl Schmid, 1980/1989, From the collection of: USI Università della Svizzera italiana
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Credits: Story

This story is the result of a collaboration between the UNESCO Chair of the Università della Svizzera italiana, and the Karl Schmid Foundation. The photos have been provided by the Karl Schmid Foundation and are available under the Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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