The Greedy Gene
I wasn't born with the greedy gene. I seem to have been born with the just enough gene. I think when people are hungry for money nothing will stop them. And it’s not just about hunger in the sense of drive, it’s about satisfying status, an appetite that knows no end. Case in point is our ruling administration, stuffed with billionaire CEO’s with no experience as elected officials.
Fortunately we still have a system of checks and balances. The resistance will not only be external. Shadow Pres. McCain and many other influential Republicans seem to see the light. It’s one thing to be disruptive and get things done, it’s another when so much seems reckless and uninformed, specifically about consequences. Don’t we teach against bullying in our schools? Don’t we now sound more than ever like the world’s bully? As very bright Trump supporters say, like Scott Adams @ScottAdamsSays, it’s just the new guard getting settled, going through some growing pains. Um, OK, but alienating the intelligence agencies - supposed allies, mocking balanced news sources, denying climate change and attempting to overturn regulations, Obamacare, abortion rights, not to mention kicking sand in the face of Iran, China, Mexico and I’m sure by now I’ve left out a few kind of tends to raise an eyebrow. It sounds more like the whims of an unfiltered narcissistic billionaire trying to get what he wants, holding court on a bar stool. And he seems to possess such a fortified, uncrushable ego nothing gets to him. I think he sees criticism as a challenge, as something leveraged by people that dislike him and his policies because they - the unfortunate that disagree - are misguided, not because of anything he said or did.
You have to admit he does play to the American spirit of rooting for the underdog. First, all reasonable sources said he didn’t have a chance, then so many from his own party denounced him, yet he prevailed and won the Republican nomination and the main prize. He tapped into this reality show underbelly American attitude that was virtually unmeasured by the internet. He saw the frustration and lasered in. I do not think he ever thought for a second he would lose. You know how they say don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do such-and-such no-matter-what if you believe in yourself, well here you go, just sayin’….the can do prez.
The market seems to be loving the lifting of regulations and the rhetoric of America first. Seems like nearsighted giddiness all based on emotion, because outside of the emigration ban and reversal, not that much has actually happened, outside of a ton of wing flapping. Time will tell. In the mean time, profit now, let the next administration clean up the mess, and look out for the shrapnel, there will be plenty.
Cohabiting With Humans
Hiding is a more effective strategy in the animal kingdom of cohabitation with humans than Fight or Flight. What animals 'thrive' with us? Coyotes, deer, mountain lions (sort of), rabbits moles rats. What's gone? Buffalo antelopes bears moose - they don't hide, they sit and stare at you or they run. Same in Africa. What thrives? Monkeys. Birds. Snakes. Things that hide in trees or burrow in the ground. What's nearly gone? Big game.
While on safari in Rwanda and the Congo this summer the myth of the big game hunter completely demystified. I could not believe my eyes. The most astonishing animals — like elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, lions, antelope, gorillas and so on — just stand there staring or innocently grazing or lie there dozing, while the big hunter walks up and shoots them. Give me a break Hemingway. I am now quite certain the most challenging part of big game hunting is getting there — that is demanding. Shooting big game that does not know it’s being stalked and is not afraid of you is not very sporty. From what I saw it’s ridiculous. I hear it takes days to track and stalk a leopard, that seems like what ‘hunting’ is supposed to sound like. Tracking can be different than hunting though.
Of course I’m somewhat ambivalent about judging as my father was an avid game bird hunter, but also enjoyed shooting bear and wouldn’t have stopped there given the opportunity. Growing up with him hunting since the age of 7 who am I to point the finger? I must have killed hundreds of ducks, geese, pheasant, quail all by myself. You can say as a little boy doing what he was told I didn’t have much choice, but I always questioned the act and relevance even then. Is this supposed to be fun I’d ask myself? It’s not necessary because of grocery stores but fun to pretend what-if in a Daniel Boone sort of way. I stuck with it through high school as it was the only thing my dad did with me, but that didn’t help any birds.
This brings up so many points, animals cohabiting with humans, hunting, relationships, the NRA, really loaded ;) issues. In my early works in Funk I emphasized hunting in quirky ways as it flew in the face of the righteousness of the art world. It was fun and funny to ruffle feathers. But my point in part was art world ribbing, not hunting condoning.
I appreciate that people like to have a relationship with animals and wildlife, but does it still need to resolve in slaughter? Isn’t the animal kingdom’s well-being challenged enough? Old ways die hard though. Europeans came to North America with a blood lust for the slaughter of animals and natives and forests alike. Many still seem to happily inherit those traits. Does Trump really need to roll back environmental regulations all across the board? Why do Republicans generally hate nature? Why destroy forests for short term gain leaving behind a barren landscape for centuries? Let’s see, first it happened across Europe, primeval forests annihilated, then Africa as it was colonized, clear cutting everything in site for crops. Officially, you must grow a crop in order to be a ‘colonizer’. I can tell you that throughout Swaziland, South Africa, and Rwanda (the only African countries I’ve been to) the dominant tree is Eucalyptus, yup, from Australia by way of the Portuguese, the fast-growing replant of the razed natural timber. This stunned me. Anyway, the exact same clear cutting feeding frenzy happened throughout the US since the 1600’s onwards, and is happening as we speak at the pace of an acre a minute in the Amazon.
Hiding is better than Fight or Flight when it comes to living with humans. Works for terrorists too. Hard to run when your rooted though, says the forest. Stand your ground, become a stump, in hunting a trophy or dinner.
AN ARTIST DOING DIFFERENT THINGS IN LIFE
It’s commonly held that dedicated, die-hard artists excel at their practice but are virtually incompetent in every other arena in life (witness Pollock, Picasso, Van Gogh, etc. forever…). Today, with all the millennial self-help gurus we are taught that in order to be complete we must nourish every branch of our tree, the tree a metaphor for a life, a limb representing dimensions, such as the Creative limb, the Family limb, the Love Relationship limb, the Economic limb, the Life Purpose limb, the Giving limb, the Fitness limb, etc. To have great shape to the tree - to use bonsai lingo - all branches must be nurtured. In my dad’s age (RIP), the only branch nurtured was economic, all else withered dismally. Yet he was considered successful. Today he would have gotten an F for producing a grossly misshapen tree.
For me as an artist nothing matters more than the next move on a painting; I have this intense connectivity with the act, the process. Whether this is conveyed to the viewer is another discussion. When my dad passed last August, suddenly art meant no more than a fallen leaf, it just did not speak to me, at all, in any shade, the essence of ‘meh’. I don’t know why, my shrink says I lost my muse. Maybe. I think I’ve been more preoccupied in other realms I guess. Now, six or so months later, too lazy to count, art is speaking to me again, waking from a deep, distracted slumber.
My most developed branch — Creative — is stirring. In the making I love the connectivity of painting to the point where if interrupted mid-process I feel uncomfortable, irritable - indicators I’m getting back on track as I’ve exhibited that behavior good or bad for 30 years. Sounds like a mistress. And now, replacing worrying about marketing so many visual styles — an economic offshoot of the Creative bough — is the conviction to celebrate my stylistic diversity. It is me. (Anti-Trump genes I guess….)
However, we are not all Van Gogh, Gauguin, Raymond Pettibon, whomever, the consumed Western artist without any familial or economic obligations; I’ve got gymnastics lessons, soccer clubs, clothing, Dr. bills, mortgage, everything a successful middle-class dentist or lawyer would likely have expense-wise, but an unapologetic artist is the color I come in. Age old story, still have to pay the bills.
To that end I've become quite competent at designing and implementing e-commerce websites — a good gig if you can get the work, as they say about bartending but it fits here. So, 56, painting a legacy but with no institutional support, immersed in the tech start-up world. Weird. But something’s got to give. The art world must deliver it’s prizes, the internet must deliver its democratic promise, and I must nourish all the tree branches. It’s a lot. Being famous would help. All my famous artist friends have trouble-free bill paying. The opposite for all the non-famous. Lesson: for success as a fine-artist it helps to get famous: Shepard Fairey (OBEY, the Obama poster), KAWS (big in Japan), Spencer Tunick (photos of naked people in public), Cleon Peterson (fighting people), ad infinitum….
My strategy is to harness the power of the internet because I surf well there, conjoined with my art passion. Problem is, I get my core dedicated followers, but nowhere near the numbers Timothy Ferris says is so easy to attain and necessary for success. I am a niche’s niche. Ha. Sounds like the fine art world to me. Yet, reality is reality. If I stayed in NYC all this time 'waiting to be discovered’ I’d be as cranky and disappointed as so many NYC-based artists I know, like a cult of angst, desperation & despair (ADD), anything for art, no family, no fun, no life, depression is good, it means you’re a real artist. Such B.S. As the millennials teach us, why not take a deeper dive and have everything life is meant to offer, or should in the ‘best of’ scenario. Amen. Shape the branches.
But, as a passionate artist I think I fail miserably at my other tree branches — not twigs but brittle at best. When I eliminate the art and only focus on nurturing the other branches, I try and try and try and I am ok, not exceptional, not pathetic, but OK. That means not extraordinary either. Yet I want to have robust branch development on my other limbs!, but truth be told, it’s in the art. As the renowned self-help guru Marisa Peer famously guides you to say, I Am Enough. Well OK, but I feel I can be more.
Glitter Planks From The Future
Press Release -- MAY 7 - 21, 2016
Hosted by the Los Angeles Dept of Cultural Affairs @ The Youth Art Center Gallery, 7222 Remmet Ave, Canoga Park, CA 91303
My new work is about repurposing and recycling, and stands as some sort of trophy of our culture of consuming and discarding. Ordinary and found materials -- driftwood, plastic packaging (blister packs), glitter, paint – are transformed into something profound, a way of taking the world we’re confronted with, acknowledging and shaping it into something of value.
My point of entry was a fascination with friezes – relief sculptures decorating buildings -- plaques, and trophies, and how they hold their own space in the world of art.
The merging of driftwood and blister packs have a contemporary / historical conflation that is really compelling. Somehow the pieces feel both ancient and futuristic. Nature’s process of making driftwood over time, blended with form-molded plastics, alchemically conjoin to make something completely new. A bizarre totem, sentinel, encrypted signage come upon a post-apocalyptic woods. A charged radiant icon you have no idea it’s purpose. The sparkly sugarcoating lends a lush desirous quality, a craving, product-lust of satisfaction.
This approach has nudged a painter firmly in the arena of sculpture. The trout plaque / riffing on friezes - has morphed into something actually 3D. These sculptures are glistening totems unto themselves, sugarcoated manifestations of the divine.
My ‘downtown’ period was a phase of deliberate anti-branding, a reaction to the predictable art world thrust of marrying a style with a name, i.e. branding, as in Agnes Martin, Barbara Kruger, Warhol, Serra, Jenny Holzer, etc. Even though these are the most serious of fine commercial artists, in art school we used to joke about how these artists get through a day doing essentially the same thing year after year. Clearly, they remain gripped by their vision. Still, the posture seems coy - the most commonplace art world tic - and effectively plays into expectations.
Here are two classic examples of micro periods in my work - phases within a phase. In this interval during the mid-90’s I painted mostly in groups of threes. In the trio Blessing, Plastic Egg Nirvana, and Ices (La Esperanza), I wanted all my painting techniques to be employed in one piece: collage, effects of gravity, drawing, painterliness, naturalism, slow art/fast art, a sort of story, and make the paintings still hold together. In the piece Blessing, deities bless a car for a safe voyage, a famous cartoon character’s deified as well - repetition and fame can imbue mystical powers - and iridescent paint changes as you move so the piece has an aliveness to it. The figures are filled with collaged text - the jumble of language as flesh and blood.
Plastic Egg Nirvana was inspired by those plastic egg toy things you can buy from bubble gum dispensers - sort of like a blend of snow domes and plastic easter eggs. I was trying to create a complete, wholly absorbing world that attracts with its presence and content, and offers various gifts. Collaged text, targets, and white oak leaves add layers of meaning and stir up the surface.
The connection with the downtown NYC 90’s mood was most deeply felt in the painting Ices (La Esperanza). The street vibe feels like a mise en scène, not a still life or staged grouping. I tried to jam all my interests into one piece, like the ice cart’s umbrella doubles as an abstracted sailboat, and the graffiti’s the title of one of my favorite Phillip Dick novels, A Scanner Darkly, and the crow looks like Audubon could have painted it but with more brushy texture. And the anime inspired flying lovers ever-changing surface fax machine drone vision. And the general feel - the ‘90s contained in a 44 1/2” x 22 1/2” rectangle, a talisman.
This group was immediately followed by the ‘drip’ painting threesome: SLUMBODUMBO, Skate NYC, and Pied-Piper (Airport Carpark). These pieces employed one technique, no collage, have exposed wood, and are much larger. An intensive frenzy of painting, they are more naturalistic and linked by scale, treatment, and bottom third drip skirt. The Ices trio is denser in subject and execution, the ‘drip’ pieces more lean and luminous with a lighter touch.
These trios have a visual vocabulary that could be explored indefinitely. For me, they felt rich and complete and I was encouraged to move on. And then again, what about those one-offs?….
'blessing' ©1995, 44” x 25.5”, acrylic, collaged text, oil pastel on wood
'Plastic Egg Nirvana', 45.375” x 24.5”, acrylic, maple leaves, target, and oil-pastel on wood ©1996
'Ices (La Esperanza)', 44.5” x 22.5”, acrylic, charcoal, collaged text and grahite on wood ©1996
‘SLUMBODUMBO’, 68” x 48”, acrylic on wood, ©1995
‘Skate NYC’, 62” x 48”, acrylic on wood, ©1995
‘Pied-piper (airport car park)’, 68” x 48”, acrylic on wood, ©1996
Ever wonder how artists become well known? Think of the artists you like, no doubt a look comes to mind, a signature style that identifies them. Take for example the modernists Chagall Rothko or Pollock and I’m sure certain images are married to the names. Not only are these artists popular, likable, controversial, what have you, but they are branded. A branded artist, how can that be? Matisse = Adidas. Picasso = Nike. Doesn’t that go against the grain of the supposed purist strivings of artists? In the marketplace their styles amount to a brand, something most artists would never admit. Many artists would say their art’s their most heartfelt voice, how could it possibly be reduced to a brand? This is how:
I think from the gallerists’ viewpoint it’s really hard to market an artist whose styles are all over the place. One style, one name. The notion is an artist must become known for a recognizable look, and if something’s working (i.e., selling and maybe even getting written about), why fix it? Selling art is the extreme sport of the sales arena. Why complicate things more? Or at the least make a logical progression, changing over time, like Mondrian’s twigs becoming grids. Never a complete departure in a different direction.
Which puts some of us in a bit of a quandary. In my little ‘career’ I’ve had 5 so-called signature styles, or let’s say modes of exploration, each one of which I most certainly could have mined for a lifetime. I explore these veins thoroughly, and then move on, generally in 6 year waves I’ve noticed, give or take. Restless. It’s an organic process, not a strategy. I would say I have effectively anti-branded myself. In some cases, like my ‘downtown’ period (1993-99), I went out of my way to do so. I did everything in clusters of three, and then completely changed everything: treatment, subject, scale. Micro periods within a period. Why should an artist confine him(her)self to one look their entire professional career asks my gemini soul? I know artists still investigating the same mode they stumbled upon in art school 30 years ago. A famous artist once told me No steve, it’s not repetitious, it’s just taken further and deeper. Different strokes for sure.
So I’ll just have to get known for each phase.
pictured top row: mark rothko 1947, 1952, 1955, 1957, 1968
pictured bottom row: steve sas schwartz 1983, 1987, 1995, 2004, 2012
I have this great quote in this huffington post article that came out today regarding the seminal bay area artist elmer bischoff, written by the inimitable John Seed http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/elmer-bischoff-ive-taught_b… take a look....
At the Sas Art School for Kids we will be exploring the wonders of visual expression through a range of great and unusual materials (non-toxic of course!), and will be investigating lots of techniques. The idea is to have fun while giving children the tools to inspire the artist in all of them. I know I would have loved knowing these techniques and materials when I was a kid.
Monday - Thursdays, 10 am - 2 pm
$240 per week [4 Classes 4 hours each]
Dailies are $60/class
Week 1 -- PAINTING / MONOTYPES -- June 9th - June 12th
Week 2 -- DRAWING / WATERCOLORS -- June 30th - July 3th
Week 3 -- SCULPTING WITH AWESOME MATERIALS -- July 7th - July 10th
Week 4 -- COLLAGE -- July 14th - July 17st
Week 5 -- PAINTING / SCULPTING -- August 4th - August 7th
*** SPECIAL ***
Classes include 45 minute Kids Yoga Break taught by the renowned Vivica Schwartz!
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
The classic SKATE N.Y.C. photo by the visionary Charlie Samuels, SKATE N.Y.C. logo by steve sas schwartz, SKATE N.Y.C. team rider Harold Hunter ©1988, grip tape art by SKATE N.Y.C. team rider Ducky (Hieronymus Bogs). SKATE N.Y.C. lives. on the new supreme, comme des garçons, and vans spring lines.
Blinded by the Light: My .02 About the Contradictory Public Opinion of Junkies; or Chiming in About Seymour Hoffman
Basquiat. Hendrix. Coltrane. Seymour Hoffman. These people are worshipped for their contribution to the arts, and their lives and untimely deaths are romanticized. For Phillip Seymour Hoffman there’s nothing but compassion - new yorkers cry out he’s one of our own, meanwhile if he wasn’t rich and famous and robbing everyone for his fix opinions would have been bi-polar. What do most people think of junkies? Gamey, can’t be trusted, indulgent to the max, to be avoided and vilified at all costs, purposely courting death. Compassion or sympathy for the addicted in these cases is non-existent, the opposite in fact, except for other sufferers. Just sayin’. The hypocrisy is unreal. You cannot take away the power of art. But you can think differently about the ordinary people suffering this malady, rising above your outrage at your car being broken into. All Seymour had to do was wait by his ATM for an hour. If this disease/addiction is to be reviled in everyone else, how can everyone accept the cloak of fame and not also measure those people by their shortcomings like the guy on the street?
painting: Binge, acrylic on wood ©1996 by steve sas schwartz
While in art school I wanted to be a college art teacher. Life path and ambition took me in an apparent other direction. Still I always loved the exchanges in advanced painting classes at UC Berkeley where students would put their work up and we - students and teachers - would all analyze it, the infamous‘crit’ (for those that didn’t go to art school, that stands for critique). These were known to be brutally honest and thoughtful dialogues, to the point where everything was examined with scrutiny, like subject treatment scale texture psychological meaning relevance, and so on. Some found these quite disruptive and painful, others gained insight, sometimes both. I loved and thrived in that environment, and took for granted that when I got my MFA I would find employment in kind. Well, mostly you can only take for granted breathing and getting hungry every day, and sometimes not even the latter.
My career trajectory has gone like this: temping on wall street - carpentry - selling paintings - designing and selling streetwear and skateboards - selling paintings - designing websites / working for dot coms - selling paintings - designing clothing / websites - selling paintings. What can be gleaned from this?
I got a facial, the first of my life, a few weeks ago, one of those up to the moment facial treatments where it’s actually quite psychologically probing - for real - and I came out of it like having taken a tropical vacation that was cut in half, and I was depressed and just felt I’ve been going in the wrong direction, and even if making a career as an artist has been extremely difficult, I needed to get back on my path, get grounded and align myself, I needed to work in the arena of the art world, even if it is one of my own creating. As there are many art worlds, but the only clear way to make a living as an artist without teaching is to get famous. The cliche is true. Absorbing the American myth is true. Who would think the purist goals of an artist could be tarnished by such crass desires? Yet, most artists feel entitled and expect to become famous. Such is the nature of an artist’s inner voice so profound is their connection to their process. Ego / entitlement, it doesn’t matter, for when the work is done it will have a life of it’s own. Although the artist’s promotion skills can have a lot to do with that life, whether it sits in the studio gathering dust or is allowed to see the light of day. The tireless promoter hat is another accessory an artist must wear.
This painting just found a home in NYC! It is from my current period, and I once described it in artspeak to a gallerist like this: “This painting, in a sense, is an abstracted metaphor about shifting personas everyone has, and which we choose to present to the world. It is deeply nuanced with rich textures and atmospheric layers of paint. In many areas, the morphing concentric circles made out of gels are transparent and reveal visual information like looking through a tidepool. This piece has a strong visual and conceptual impact.”
A funny story about Mask!, it had been on display at my old clothing company’s showroom and an even larger painting hanging above it fell on it and caused an expressive red streak from the chin diagonally down through the hip. From the front it looked deliberate, but from the back it looked as if someone gashed it with the claw end of a hammer. Really violent looking, like a violation. So this brought to mind two things. One is the role gravity plays in my work. A lot of my ground building work (ground in painting parlance means the ‘background’ or surface or underpainting you are prepping to work upon) involves gravity - natural processes - in the sense I apply lots of thin layers of paint and observe and adjust how they drip and interact. So a painting of mine that falls and scars another one didn’t upset me, particularly because it looked good.
The second thing it brought to mind was the violence of the gesture in relation to the figure in the painting. The red streak aligns with the gravity process, and maybe the violence finds its own alignment too, but not with process but subject. Someone said Isn’t that misogynistic, putting that [textured concentric circles] over the face? I said No it’s a mask, but to them it wasn’t, it was a defacement (no pun intended), an erasure, an insult. Pushing further, the painting was seemingly attacked (albeit by another painting)! Other comments that have come up involve exoticism and fashion, al la Gustav Klimt. Opened ended reads - the power of art is a magical thing, and the converse.