Rita Schoonmaker: The Evolution of an Abstract Visionary

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A Canvas of Memories

Rita Schoonmaker, born in 1954 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, possesses a rich tapestry of experiences that profoundly shape her artistic journey. Relocating to Las Vegas, Nevada in the 1960s with her family for better financial opportunities, Schoonmaker’s childhood was steeped in the rugged beauty of the outdoors. This early exposure to nature’s palette, particularly the Mojave Desert, later blossomed into a deep appreciation for its vivid colors and stark contrasts. The unique hues of the desert, with its sandstone structures juxtaposed against man-made and natural oases, captivated her artistic senses. Schoonmaker’s early artistic endeavors were attempts to capture these contrasts, using a color palette reflective of the desert’s beauty. Through this, her work evolved, emphasizing line, color, and texture, transforming into a more fluid and subconscious-driven expression. The artist’s connection to her environment is evident in her work, as the desert’s hues and textures continue to echo in her creations, showcasing a journey that marries personal experience with artistic exploration.

The artist’s journey through various media and styles further illustrates her versatility and creative evolution. From early days with crayons and chalk to exploring painting and mixed media in college, Schoonmaker’s artistic vocabulary has continually expanded. This progression was nurtured by supportive parents and family friends, who encouraged her art from a young age. Despite initial fears about financial stability, she carved a path that intertwined her passion and livelihood. This dedication to her craft is a testament to her resilience and commitment to artistic expression. Schoonmaker’s story is not just about artistic development but also about overcoming challenges and staying true to one’s passion, a narrative that resonates deeply with anyone pursuing a path less traveled.

Rita Schoonmaker: The Journey to Artistic Freedom

The journey of becoming an artist, especially for someone like Rita Schoonmaker, who emerged during a time when artistic careers were less conventional, is fraught with challenges and requires a blend of passion, perseverance, and adaptability. In the 1970s, Las Vegas offered limited opportunities for artists with Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, yet Schoonmaker’s determination to carve out a creative space for herself was unwavering. She embarked on a path of freelancing various creative jobs, balancing them with part-time work, until she found steady employment that aligned with her artistic aspirations. Her roles as a technical illustrator, photographic lab technician, and eventually a computer graphic designer, after returning to college for additional training, reflect her adaptable nature and commitment to her craft. This journey underscores the often undervalued aspect of an artist’s life – the need to balance creative pursuit with practical survival, a challenge that Schoonmaker navigated with grace and determination.

Schoonmaker’s artistic journey is also a story of community and support. While employed, she found backing through local galleries and contributed works to fundraising events and juried art competitions. This engagement with the local art scene was crucial in maintaining her presence and continuing her artistic endeavors. The support from these galleries and community projects highlights the importance of local art ecosystems in nurturing artists. Schoonmaker’s experience is a reminder of the symbiotic relationship between artists and their communities, where support and exposure can play a pivotal role in sustaining an artist’s career. This aspect of her journey reflects a broader narrative in the art world – the need for communal support and the challenges artists face in gaining recognition and sustaining their practice in a dynamic and often unpredictable field.

Rita Schoonmaker: Abstract Expressionism and Beyond

Rita Schoonmaker’s artistic style, rooted in abstract expressionism, is a captivating fusion of dynamism and tranquility. This style, characterized by vigorous, energetic strokes contrasted with calm, zen-like elements, showcases her ability to harness a wide emotional spectrum. Schoonmaker’s love for calligraphy, a remnant of her graphics background, plays a significant role in her work, adding a unique layer of visual interest and complexity. The artist’s approach to creation is deeply intuitive and spontaneous. Drawing from a range of inspirations, from the shifting weather patterns to the changing light on nearby mountains, Schoonmaker trusts in a process that is predominantly subconscious. Her works are an exploration of line, movement, color, and texture, reflecting an ongoing dialogue with her surroundings and inner experiences. This approach allows her to produce art that is not only visually striking but also rich in emotional depth and narrative.

Schoonmaker’s preferred working environment is a testament to her commitment to this intuitive process. Her dedicated workroom, a haven of creativity, is meticulously arranged to suit her evolving artistic needs. From a flat table surface, ideal for her smaller, more controlled works, to an easel for larger pieces, the artist’s workspace is a reflection of her artistic journey. The transition from working primarily on vertical surfaces to a preference for table work signifies a shift in her artistic expression, mirroring the evolution of her style. The slow, patient layering of color, a hallmark of her process, requires not just technical skill but a deep sense of mindfulness. Schoonmaker’s workspace, free from distractions, is where her artistic vision comes to life, an intimate setting where each stroke and color choice is a step towards the realization of her inner vision.

Influences and Inspirations in Rita Schoonmaker’s Art

Rita Schoonmaker’s artistic influences and inspirations offer a glimpse into the diverse range of elements that shape her unique style. Growing up in a household where American Western art was revered, Schoonmaker initially focused on realism, striving for technical excellence. However, her high school art teacher’s encouragement to embrace individuality marked a turning point in her artistic development. The competitive, yet friendly, rivalry with her peers over detailed drawings each week exposed her to various styles, from pointillism to intricate shading techniques. This period of exploration laid the groundwork for her later forays into more expressive and abstract forms of art.

The most transformative phase of her artistic journey occurred during her studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Under the guidance of professor-emeritus Rita Deanin Abbey, Schoonmaker experienced a paradigm shift. Moving away from controlled, realistic illustrations, she embraced a more liberated approach to art, painting and drawing with unbridled enthusiasm. This transition from realism to abstract expressionism signifies a profound shift in her artistic identity. It marked the beginning of a journey towards creating art on her own terms, unshackled from the expectations of others. Schoonmaker’s evolution as an artist is a powerful narrative of self-discovery and artistic liberation, a journey that continues to inspire her work and resonate with her audience.


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