Voyage ATL, 2018, Interview
Today we’d like to introduce you to Howard Schwartzberg.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn New York. I always made drawings and painted as a kid, and was very lucky to be introduced to the work of Robert Rauschenberg in high school. Then, when I was in college studying illustration at Pratt Institute, I met the artist Lawrence Carroll, who had a major influence on my early years as an artist. After college, I moved to Soho, NYC, but by the early ‘90s I was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I had a large studio nearby. At that time the area was still in its early stage as a place for artists to find cheap spaces to live and work. It was a great time and place to be. It was a fantastic experience. I had been included in a group show at the Drawing Center and multiple Invitationals at Stux Gallery in New York City. Then, in ’97, I had a solo show at Momenta Art in Williamsburg, and another at the Silverstein Gallery in Chelsea a year later. I even got a couple of reviews in Art Forum and Art News. Things were going well, it was a very productive and exciting time for me. During this time, I had also been teaching in an after-school program to help pay the bills and I was playing guitar in “Whatever” an Avant-garde punk band.
By 2000, when I created an earthwork at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, NY, I was no longer showing at Silverstein and found it difficult to get another show or promote myself. Remember, back then there was no social media like today. It was around this time I started to collaborate with filmmaker and artist Gregory Shepard. Greg taught me how to use the camera, and introduced me to collaborating with others in a social conceptual way. We held seminars at my studio with other artists; it was a fun and inspiring time. I was teaching disadvantaged and at-risk youth during the day and at night I was putting in long hours at the studio. My art was evolving, but my pieces were hard to sell. In 2003 my studio building was sold. I had no studio and money was short, so I made the shift into teaching full time.
I started to view education as a medium to create art. I felt that seeing a child engaged in the creative process and being rewarded for their efforts was just as meaningful as any painting I could ever make. Inspired by the artist Joseph Beuys, I moved forward into a phase where I would put my painting aside and switched mediums to social educational art making. I embraced education and developed a special program called “Reality Art Class”.
I’ve been working in a huge, overcrowded public high school for nearly ten years now and my return to the studio began about five years ago. Teaching one hundred and fifty kids a day can be a task and at times it’s a real challenge to make forty-five minutes have value to some students, but at the end of most days I still leave with a feeling of accomplishment. Now, after almost thirty years in education I’m planning to retire and I’m looking forward to working in the studio full time again.
Please tell us about your art.
I’m a studio artist, everything happens in the studio for me. This doesn’t mean, I don’t get inspired by nature or things that people do that touch me you know, or stuff like that, it just means that everything gets processed in the studio. Things get moved around, put to the side or get attention every day. Materials and pieces begin to speak to each other, a particular placement or arrangement of work in the space can change an idea. It’s a place where the old becomes the new and the new becomes old. It’s a timeless place that I find very motivating, it’s where I want to be to make things. The studio is what keeps me going as my language continues to evolve and develop as long as I show up.
In the studio, I experiment with the constructs of painting. I want to push painting as much as I can and turn it inside out, where the medium essentially holds on to itself. I reverse process and the materials used to make a painting. For example, in 1989, I created a body of work called “inside-out burlap bag paintings”. These works began my language thirty years ago. The paintings were made by sewing two large pieces of burlap together to create a bag or container. After hanging the burlap on the wall, I painted the surface before turning the entire piece inside out. The paint that had seeped through to the reverse of the canvas was now the front of the painting. Then I placed wood inside the burlap to represent the reversed role of the wood now being held inside the canvas instead of the wood being the support structure. Another example would be in a recent body of work I call “Sandwich/Bandage Paintings”. These works are three-dimensional forms of paint sandwiched between a wood support structure and the canvas. In these works, the canvas is applied to the paint, in a role reversal, instead of the paint being applied to the canvas.
Reversing process gives me new ways to try to understand and view the work. I have a language, which I have followed and trusted for thirty years. I see paint as having form and I explore its weight and volume. This exploration has resulted in a hybrid of painting and sculpture, conceptually leaning towards painting, as I address new relationships between the canvas, paint and support. The work is about form, color, weight, space and surface and is rooted in Abstract Expressionism, because of its inclusion of spirituality, Minimalism, because of its reduction to simplicity, Conceptualism, because ideas are just as important to align with the visual, and Arte Povera, because of the use and feel of materials. Paintings for me are more than just a flat surface, even though all my paintings have flat surfaces, they are objects that have sides, tops and bottoms, insides and outsides. I enjoy exploring all these facets of painting. They are often monochrome and the color gives the form its personality. The majority of my work essentially is three-dimensional canvas bags or containers that I create, which hold painting.
I hope my work makes people curious and question what they are seeing: Is it a painting or sculpture? Is it wet or dry? Is this thing full of paint? What’s inside? How heavy is it? I want people to relate to the work in the space, I want them to approach with curiosity and to observe and contemplate the work from all sides. I want the work to make the viewer smile, think and enjoy art.
Do you have any advice for other artists? Any lessons you wished you learned earlier?
My advice to other artists is to always be truthful to your art and let it guide you. You must trust the work and allow things to happen. Even when you fail, look at it as a positive because in reality the failure is teaching you. At the same time realize the responsibility of the artist in society. I believe all artists teach even if it is not in the classroom. It’s important to pass the baton to future generations.
Early on I wished I knew more about art history and relevant artists of the day. If only I had studied art history like I did my favorite baseball team. However, at the time I just wanted to be in the studio and make original work. I actually didn’t want to know too much, I thought what I knew and loved about art was enough.
I also wish I had known how to promote my art early on in my career. I stopped showing for twenty years partly because of this. Today we are lucky because we can show our work on the Internet. What I mean by that is that you can interact with other artists, collectors, galleries and museums from all around the world, day and night, so everyone can see your work in a way that was impossible twenty-five years ago. I love it, it keeps me connected and I want to be connected.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
People can support me by sharing and talking about the work. I just started showing my work again to the public about a year ago, so at the moment people can see my work on my website www.howardschwartzberg.com and on Instagram @howard.schwartzberg all of which I am constantly updating, including new work and information about upcoming shows. This is also the best way to see the work I have done throughout the years. I respond to all questions and enjoy the conversations and anyone can DM me on Instagram.
Howard Schwartzberg presents an untitled installation comprised of excerpts from separate but linked series of works. Central to this installation are two sculptural paintings which literally turn painting inside out to expose its constructs.
These works appear as burlap sacks filled with paint. Their polished saturated surfaces contrast with the bulging burlap, which acts as a repository for memory and personal histories while alluding to the historical baggage of painting.
These filled containers are simultaneously cynical and nostalgic. As with all of Schwartzberg's work, they speak of decay and the potential for growth. Drawings from the Product series and the Patient series utilize Miracle Gro fertilizer, plastic bags and seeds. These works use word play and metaphor to speak of both a historical critique and a personal narrative.
1987 B.F.A. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York
2005 Masters of Science in Education, University of New England, Maine
2018 57W57 Arts, New York , NY, May/June in the waiting room
2018 da Fonseca Contemporanea, Wilton Manors, Florida (two person show)
2001 Dorsky Gallery, “Spiral Worms”, SoHo, New York
1998 Silverstein Gallery, Chelsea, New York
1997 Momenta Art, Brooklyn, New York
2019 Process and Progress, E.M. Galerie, Kollum, The Netherlands
2002 Made by Nature, Dorsky Gallery, Long Island City, Queens, New York
Drawing Center: Benefit Show SoHo, New York
2000 Wunderkammer: Wonderworks, The Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, New York
1999 Spring, Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, New York
1998 Drawing a Conclusion, Dorsky Gallery, SoHo, New York
1997 Word to Word, Linda Kirkland Gallery, SoHo, New York
Gramercy Art Fair, Momenta Art, New York
Gramercy Art Fair, The Drawing Center, New York
1996 Gramercy Art Fair, The Drawing Center, New York
1991 Invitational, Stux Gallery, SoHo, New York
1990 Invitational, Stux Gallery, SoHo, New York
Selections 15, The Drawing Center, SoHo, New York
1999 recipient for The New York City Art Teachers Association / United Federation of Teachers, Best Art Educator Award in the High School Category
M.I.T. drawing collection
Abstract Room, Strasbourg, France
Frederic Caillard, Abstract Room, Interview, 2019
Max Henry, Art in America, December, 1998
Tom Moody, ArtForum, Summer, 1998
Jennifer R. Gross and Susan Harris, Drawing a Conclusion, Dorsky Gallery, NY, 1998
Howard Schwartzberg & Dale Anthony
December 7, 1997 - January 12, 1998
1987, 110 Mercer Street, Studio, SoHo, NYC