Timothy P. Schmalz’s sculptures have received acclaim worldwide; his work Homeless Jesus drew attention when it was installed last year at the Office of Papal Charities at the Vatican. Most of Schmalz’s work deals with religious and spiritual themes, though he has also created sculptures for public memorials for veterans, fire-fighters, and other groups and individuals. Photo galleries of his work can be viewed at his website.
Schmalz recently answered some questions for CWR about his work as an artist, his routine and influences, and how Sacred Scripture plays a pivotal role in his work and inspiration.
K.V. Turley, for CWR: How would you describe your work?
Timothy P. Schmalz: The best work I do I would describe as visual translations of the Bible.
CWR: Why did you choose to work in so overtly religious subject matter?
Schmalz: I believe it has a function. I am interested in “showing” the eternal truth found in Christianity.
CWR: In regard to each sculpture, how long is it from conception through to completion?
Schmalz: Usually eight months.
CWR: When and where do you work – is there a set routine?
Schmalz: Usually I start sculpting between 4-5 am; I sculpt till 5 pm, but on weekends I cut it short at 12 pm.
CWR: Where and when do ideas for the next project come to you?
Schmalz: Creating art one gets into a sort of conversation with the work you have done. Many times the new work I do was inspired by what I did with my previous work or the absence of ideas that have not yet been put in my work. I also do commissions for cathedrals and churches. I am currently working on several new subjects that are the direct request of different commissions.
CWR: Have you ever suffered the equivalent of “writer’s block”?
CWR: How much, if any, does other media—books, music, film—feed your creative process?
Schmalz: The Bible is the purest source but other works inspire me as well. For three years I have wanted to sculpt René Girard’s ideas. In regards to mainstream media, I am quite far from that.
Every day now I am reading—listening to unabridged recordings of—St. Augustine’s City Of God. Every day for around one month, this will be the sound in my studio. In fact, I have listened to the King James New Testament for more than one year in my studio while I sculpted. The repetition of this does provide wonderful insight. I love the quote from St. Francis: head, heart, and hand.
CWR: Who are your favorite artists?
Schmalz: I would have to say Bernini.
CWR: What artistic works would you recommend?
Schmalz: I would have to recommend René Girard. Although he is not a visual artist but a philosopher and theologian, I think the creativity of his mind is awesome. His book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning is the best.
As far as visual art it would have to be Bernini. He used art as a tool to glorify God. It is inspiring.
CWR: How do you understand your art in terms of vocation?
Schmalz: It is actually the only thing I have done as far as work since I was 19 and I am 48 now. It is so much part of my life that it is hard to imagine anything else.
CWR: If being a sculptor has taught you anything—what is it?
Schmalz: Art is a great analogy for life. You need to have an epic subject and do the laborious task of bringing it into focus—with an art work, or one’s life.
Also, I value the currency of time very little—I have to or I could never finish some of the sculptures I start. If I did not have the patience, I probably would not have the vision for some of my sculptures; the concern for time would censor them out of any hope of existence. I think of St. Catherine of Siena wrote in the Dialogues that impatience is evil. In order to do this work you have to be very, very comfortable being alone.