Visual Arts

A Climber's Peak with Art After Death

After perishing on K2, a climber's expressive art steps into the light with Peak Inspirations.

By Nick Esquer February 2, 2016

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Denali Schmidt in San Francisco

Looming above the border of China and Pakistan sits the silver medal holder of the world’s highest peak. K2, also known as Ketu or Qogir, stands amid billowing clouds and blasts of sunshine at a not-so-modest 28,521 feet. Its taller and more popular sibling, Everest, gets all the media attention as the world’s ceiling and man’s greatest adventure. The big thing K2 is known for, on the other hand, are the lives it has taken. Also know as the deadliest mountain, K2 has claimed the lives of more than 60 documented climbers, including Denail Schmidt, a 25 year-old Australian who perished on the mountain in 2013 along with his father, notable climber Marty Schmidt. What Denali—a burgeoning artist about to break into the art scene in a major way—left behind is the real story.

“He was incredibly artistic. As far back as I can remember he always had a sketchpad and a pencil in hand. Every time he went anywhere he was always sketching,” notes his younger sister Sequoia Di Angelo, a Los Angeles publisher who organized her brother’s namesake foundation that supports artistic and educational purposes around the globe.

Di Angelo spearheaded the touring exhibition, Peak Inspirations, a collection of works from her late brother featuring oil on canvas paintings, installations, photography, videography, and audio excerpts crafted by Denali during his climbs.

“He was always going off on some climbing or skiing adventure,” says Sequoia, an avid climber herself. As kids, the Schmidt family went off on regular treks to peaks in Colorado, California, New Zealand and Australia. Denali took these moments, and his own hikes, as inspiration for his works.

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A work from Denali Schmidt

After graduating California College of Arts in San Francisco, Denali was set to attend art school in Berlin when he attempted to summit K2. The perilous mountain has a small window of days to climb it throughout the year and has never been climbed during winter. In July 2013, Schmidt looked up at the peak, taking in his life’s passion, and was swallowed by an inescapable avalanche.

A year following the death of her father and brother, Sequoia helped start a Kickstarter campaign aimed at bringing Denali’s artwork to light after being held in storage in San Francisco. One of the paintings shows K2—a fascination for the climber—detailed with sweeping clouds, jagged edges and the 400-meter vertical face, the Black Pyramid. Another work is hauntingly prophetic: “Buried,” an oil painting composed on a piece of plywood, shows Denali clad in a burnt orange down-jacket, obscured by a thin sheet of ice that’s installed in front of it. During each showcase, the ice melts, unveiling the deceased climber’s frozen face masked under climbing goggles.

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The peak of K2 reaches high into the sky.

Image: Shutterstock

Accentuating the artist/climber’s spiritual connection with adventuring, Peak Inspirations, which opened in San Francisco last summer before moving to Denver last month, then on to Houston, also includes audio recordings of Schmidt, reciting poetry and thoughts, including a recording done right before climbing K2.

“The exhibition itself takes you on an artistic journey through mountaineering and adventuring,” Sequoia notes. “He left a piece of himself with each of these works.”

Denali Foundation Annual Gala. Fri, Feb 12 at 7. $150–500. Tables start at $1,500. The Houstonian, 111 N. Post Oak Ln. 713-680-2626.

Peak Inspirations. Feb 5–7. 11–5. Deborah Colton Gallery, 2445 North Blvd. 713-869-5151.

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