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Artist bares plus-sized body, soul for 60 artists in ‘Perceive Me’ exhibit at Coastline College

A rear view of mixed-media sculpture "Good as Hell," part of a new exhibit at Coastline Art Gallery in Newport Beach.
A rear view of “Good as Hell,” a mixed-media sculpture of Kristine Schomaker created by artist Debbie Korbel, for the performance exhibit “Perceive Me,” at Coastline College through Oct. 15.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

When you look in a mirror what do you see?

Is the image looking back at you beautiful and inspiring, or do you see flaws? Can you not help but notice signs of aging or fatigue? Could you stand to lose a few pounds? Are these attributes apparent to others?

“Perceive Me,” a new performance exhibit at the art gallery at Newport Beach’s Coastline College poses questions about identity and value and explores how our thoughts about ourselves are often colored by how we believe others see us.

Artist Kristine Schomaker with a photograph included in the performance exhibit "Perceive Me," at Coastline Art Gallery.
Artist Kristine Schomaker poses in front of a photograph included in the performance exhibit “Perceive Me,” on display at Coastline Art Gallery through Oct. 15.
(Courtesy of Kristine Schomaker)

Los Angeles artist Kristine Schomaker — a plus-sized woman with an eating disorder who’d spent decades evaluating her self-worth based on how she believed she was perceived by others — set out to find answers by doing what some might consider unthinkable.

She agreed to pose nude for 60 artists, in positions and locations of their choosing, to understand how others regarded her and, in the process, reconcile those perceptions with her own beliefs about her body, its beauty and value.

“I love this idea of seeing myself through other people’s eyes, trying to shift this perspective and trying to love myself through that,” Schomaker, 49, said in an interview Tuesday. “Putting myself out there nude is a way of facing myself, facing my fears.”

The result is an assemblage of artwork rendered in charcoal, ink, wood, clay or mixed and even digital media, each one showing a different side of its subject.

"Where Does the Truth Lie," an oil painting by Bradford J Salamon, is part of "Perceive Me" at Coastline Art Gallery.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

One larger-than-life sculpture titled “Good as Hell” portrays Schomaker as a kind of angel, suspended from the ceiling and framed by a majestic metal wingspan.

Another, a painting, shows her confidently seated, naked but for a gold chain and top hat, a cigarette in one hand and an ice cream sundae in another.

Created largely in 2019, the exhibit debuted at Cal State Los Angeles in February 2020 but was placed on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. It runs at Coastline College through Oct. 15, with an opening reception scheduled for Sept. 23, before heading to San Diego Mesa College.

"Never Felt So Loved" by Kerri Sabine-Wolf is part of a new exhibit "Perceive Me" at Coastline College.
(Sara Cardine)

“It’s about being comfortable with who you are,” said Coastline Art Gallery director and curator David Lee. “You can’t be more vulnerable than putting yourself out there to 60 different artists and having them present you in your entirety. I wouldn’t do it, not even if you paid me.”

Although Schomaker had disrobed in the name of art before, sitting for sketches or being photographed behind frosted glass or some other abstracting surface, ceding control of how she might appear was a departure from her normal mode of attempting to hide her figure in (mostly black) clothing.

But in the process of posing — in hats, wigs or assembled crowns, reclining amid rose petals, lying flat against a rock outcropping or with arms crossed below ample breasts in a beatific manner — the artist began to notice a shift in the way she felt about herself.

"Kristine at a Mirror," an acrylic and oil painting by Carson Grubaugh, on display Wednesday at Coastline Art Gallery.
(Sara Cardine)

“I felt glamorous, classy, beautiful and seen,” Schomaker wrote in an artist’s statement that accompanies the works at the Coastline gallery. “The poses came naturally, and I was having fun. I soon realized my inner feelings are much different than the physicality of my body.”

Los Angeles artist Susan Amorde created a sculpture and mixed media piece titled “Ta-Dah!” which shows Schomaker, arms raised above her head in a posture of triumph, standing atop an antique scale balanced by a cake, a reference to 2018 show curated by Schomaker titled “Let Me Eat Cake.”

“Most people have this little skinny model image of an ideal body weight. I think [Kristine] is proving that wrong,” said Amorde, who came to the Coastline Art Gallery Wednesday to host a lunchtime lecture.

“This is how I see her— she’s quirky, she’s daring, she’s feminine and funny. There are a lot of different sides to her.”

Los Angeles Artist Susan Amorde with her sculpture "Ta-Dah!" at Coastline Art Gallery on Wednesday.
Los Angeles Artist Susan Amorde poses Wednesday with her sculpture “Ta-Dah!” created for the performance exhibit “Perceive Me” at Coastline Art Gallery in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Schomaker said the feedback she’s gotten from “Perceive Me” has been largely positive as audiences describe how much the work and the concepts undergirding them resonated deeply. She hopes to help people love their bodies, to give themselves permission to think about things differently or, ultimately, not care what other people think.

As for herself, she said she’s learned things are not as black and white as she once believed. She sees now there is no one ideal body shape and character also weighs in on how others perceive us.

“I’m still a work in progress, as far as learning to love my body,” she said. “But I’m getting closer.”

“Perceive Me” runs at Coastline Art Gallery, through Oct. 15 with an opening reception scheduled Sept. 23 at 5 p.m. Located at 1515 Monrovia Ave., Newport Beach, the gallery is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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