Daniel Schwartz's illustrations were confined by the deadlines and space limitations of his commercial clients, but he hungered to do something more ambitious. So he resolved:
Focus on the masterwork. Do it on a large scale. Use your skills, drawing, composition, color to say something universal, timeless, powerful. This had always been in the back of my mind. Then one day in 1969, watching a crowd of joggers across the street I thought I might attempt a large painting based on this resolute, determined group of men.He began a series of studies which, 16 years later, culminated in a painting entitled, "Portrait of the Artist, Running," a complex masterpiece 78" x 100".
During those 16 years, the painting went through several major transformations, ultimately evolving into something very different from Schwartz's original intent. He began to record the painting's various incarnations, keeping track of how he nursed the ideas, the emotions, the composition, the abstract shapes, the flat patterns and the color match ups as he and his painting changed. He ultimately published them in an excellent book, Portrait of the Artist, Running.
The picture started out with muscular, purposeful men striding forward in unity. Later drafts turned into a more chaotic mob in the street accompanied by wild dogs. After several interesting turns, Schwartz painted himself in the midst of a herd of purposeful men:
They are all muscular, their muscularity paramount, except for the central figure who is more fragile, hesitant. He is trying to break away from the herd of onrushing men. His face is in the shadow but the figure and the shadowy face are mine. I have placed myself in an alienated context, set apart from my fellow men who are engaged in a fierce race for a goal I will not share... Wild dogs harass us as wild dogs would harass a herd of harmless animals until finally cutting out the weakest member for killing and devouring. One of the dogs stands like a man to suggest its victory over us.
I found Schwartz's book to be a smart, eloquent, illuminating journey through the mind of an excellent artist as he constructs a major piece. With no illustrator's deadline, Schwartz had no excuse for falling short of perfect.
By 1974 I had painted over and over it so many times that the original start had been completely obliterated.... Nothing satisfied. The background wouldn't do. The dogs wouldn't do. The painting had become a weight on my shoulders.... It wasn't what it could be, what it should have been from the start.... I was fifty years old. I gave no thought to what might become of this huge canvas. I worked alone. I had no prospects for the painting's exhibition or sale. I had no deadline to work against as I always did as an illustrator.As Schwartz continued to work, the figures acquired hard edges, the color palette became more intense and the shapes became more abstract:
When I visited Schwartz in his studio it was a treat to see his finished magnum opus, as big as a wall, where I could appreciate its subtleties and special touches.
Schwartz's description of his painting process reminded me of the line by Dryden, "He who would search for pearls, must dive below."