It might be haunting, but the message is clear.
Walking up the staircase to a wide-open art studio in Elmira, one can’t help but suddenly stop in wonder.
For what greets them is artist/sculptor, Timothy Schmalz working on his newest creation.
The life size sculpture began taking shape only a week and a half ago and already, the bodies and faces are shockingly coming to life.
“That’s what art should do,” Schmalz says. “It should grab someone. It has to shock people and this should hopefully shock people when it’s done.”
The idea behind the sculpture is to raise awareness about human trafficking.
“I was asked by the Vatican to explore the subject. And I have been learning so much about it. It impacts so many people,” Schmalz said.
As he walks around his newest piece, it’s clear that he has a vision in mind as he continues to fill in, touch up, and add clay where needed.
The figures are taking shape, the faces begin to show emotion.
“Each figure has a story to share,” Schmalz says. “These are modern day slaves coming out of a sewer grate. They are being released. It’s a powerful sculpture because this is happening everywhere in the world. There are sex slaves in our area, in our hotels and it’s so disturbing. In places like Africa, people are still being sold. When starting this, I thought of the Pied Piper and how innocence and humanity is being sucked under. These humans are coming out the ground and merging out of their environment.”
A project such as this will be cast in bronze and could take Schmalz up to 1-2 years to complete.
He contemplates another idea as he walks to the base.
“I might add the dove of St. Bakhita, the Patron Saint of human trafficking survivors as the humans are being lifted up,” he says.
“I’m my own guinea pig to my own artwork. It’s through art that I receive a deeper understanding of my faith.”
Schmalz, based out of St. Jacobs On., conceives his sculptures with a deep devotion to Catholicism.
“The power of artwork to be used to celebrate, to create awareness, has always been present. Christian artwork especially is fascinating as a form of communication to a once illiterate population and we today are illiterate, but in different ways. It’s a challenge as a sculptor to find an important subject and almost create a play. Here is the stage and then draw attention through the characters,” Schmalz said.
“I take a humble approach to art. It’s almost negative in thinking that people don’t like art. Today, there are so many other visual demands and art tends to be invisible today. So, I want to make something dramatic, to keep people’s attention.”
And worldwide attention, Schmalz continues to receive.
Installments of his work have brought his visual message across the globe.
He has crafted more than 200 original statues in public spaces around the world, and one of his most popular works is the Homeless Jesus which has been displayed in places including Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The statue depicts a homeless man with wounds of crucifixion lying on a bench.
“It’s fascinating that this is the year 2019 and the message is still so relevant today. With 2,000 years of Christianity, the Homeless Jesus is still grabbing attention. It’s all about the universal values that people hold today. Christianity should express something sacred in humanity, such as peace and to help marginalized people. It’s our duty,” Schmalz said.
“This is a perfect example of how Christianity is relevant today. To see that human life is sacred and we should help our brothers and sisters.”
Originally from Elmira, Schmalz recalls once working in the same space he currently works in, years ago – a space that has now become his art studio.
“I worked here 30 years ago. It was called Park Avenue Fabrics and I used to cut fabric. I remember looking out the window at lunch and now, here I am, doing it again.,” he says.
Schmalz attended Elmira District Secondary School. He then went on to study at the Ontario College of Art but dropped out after three months.
“I didn’t agree with the teachings. The art was too “art for art’s sake”. Art should grab you.,” he says.
“So, I studied artists from the Renaissance from Michelangelo and Da Vinci. I realized what they did was so spiritually important, so I started my own Christian artwork.”
And thirty years later, Schmalz continues to find inspiration through his faith.
“Christian work in the past was all about beauty and that’s great but I try and take some of the more challenging ideas of Christianity and bring them forth. How would Jesus want to be represented? I think not by his abs or his teeth but by his ideas, to see God in a homeless person for example.”
Schmalz also created the Canadian Veterans Memorial located in Waterloo, On. He networked with local families who sent images of family and friends who had served in the war.
“I received hundreds of photos. To see these faces, it was haunting. I wanted to give them dignity. And because of where this memorial is located, many young people will see it,” Schmalz says.
“And it was very much the same with the firefighting sculpture. It was so moving.”
The firefighting monument honours Fort McMurray firefighters who worked to save the city from disaster in 2016. The design, was inspired by the Fireman’s Prayer, written by U.S. firefighter A.W. (Smokey) Linn.
Also, in October, 2015, a 4-metre statue commemorating Gordon Lightfoot was unveiled in Orillia.
An avid fan, Schmalz depicted a young Lightfoot playing guitar surrounded by a ring of maple leaves, each one containing an image inspired by a song.
“I wanted to show what he gave Canada and future Canadians need to know who he was” Schmalz says.
According to Schmalz, his purpose is to give Christianity as much visual dignity as possible.
“I hope that my art can serve as visual ambassadors that will represent the religion. Art needs to communicate something important. It has to serve something. If not, it’s irrelevant and people don’t care.”
For Schmalz, the more powerful the representation, the more powerful an impact it will have.
“Creating art that has the power to convert. Creating sculpture that deepens our spirituality. Attaining these two goals describes my purpose as an artist.”