Maurice Schmidt

Austin Bus - Maurice  Schmidt

Austin Bus, 1957

Painting oil on linen  
40 x 30 in

"Austin Bus was done outside of class during my undergraduate years at the University of Texas, Austin. I had a studio class I particularly disliked so I took the afternoon off. Yet, whenever I cut an art class, I would nevertheless spend the time on art. So I took my sketchbook and got on a city bus. When I found an interesting stop, I planned to get off and do some drawings. However, this time I never got off. Nothing I saw interested me. Finally my bus returned to the very place where I boarded it. I got off and as I walked in front of the bus to cross the street, I looked up and into the front of the bus. Through the dark blue windshield, I saw the people moving. Their colors changed as they moved front to back, the indoor light catching details revealing a cheek, a hat, and the shadows hiding them too. It was like peering into a living kaleidoscope, full of people made of stained glass. Outside, where I stood, it was sunny: a different world, hot and real. This was the beginning of my fascination with the simultaneous experience of a cool indoor space from a hot outside space: an experience somewhat akin to looking into clear water and seeing fish and reflections of sunlight. I have been asked if there is significance to the black man. At the time, I attached no social message to this image, at least not consciously. But this was the mid-fifties and everywhere the race issues were discussed, like soft murmuring. It was in the back of everyone's mind. As I look at this man now, walking nonchalantly in front of all the white people still on the bus, the thought occurred to me that at that time, the only way a black person could be at the front of a bus was to walk in front of it. This was the period of abstract expressionist art, shown in all the museums and taught in all the art schools. A narrative painting about everyday life, Austin Bus was a shocker in this abstract environment, both to my fellow students and teachers. Looking at the sight of that black figure in your face, at eye level, I thought I heard the murmurings again."excerpt from the book "Maurice Schmidt, A Life in Art"



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