Thursday, October 16, 2014


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."


MORAN said...

BEAUTIFUL. I ordered the book.

kev ferrara said...
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Anonymous said...

These are more fine art and better than Harvey Dunn's illustrations. Harvey Dunn can aim straight at an objective because his objectives are easy. These are fine art because they use passion and intellect together.


kev ferrara said...
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David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- It's available on Amazon and well worth it.

Kev Ferrara-- I agree that "There is a serious discussion to be had about revisiting and revising work accomplished with fire and intuition from the critical label-oriented perspective of the intellect," but I disagree about the "stern lesson" you offer. In fact, I think most "serious discussions" are too complex to result in "stern lessons."

From the text of Schwartz's book, I don't think his intellectual analysis was a retrospective attempt to peel back the layers of an act of passion. The intellectual (or perhaps "meditative") part of his painting was often a prospective search for alternative approaches, sandwiched between multiple drafts. It filled the gaps while Schwartz traveled or worked on other pictures. (Keep in mind, too, that we are really talking about dozens of paintings motivated by different passions rather than one linear effort. Frankly, I prefer a number of these studies to the final painting.)

As I believe we have discussed before with artists such as Steinberg, I don't think the difference between the intellectual and the passionate elements of art are cleanly divisisble (and I suspect you don't either). Schwartz's description sounds much more dialectical process. Or if you don't care for Plato, it seems a little like the guy on Ed Sullivan who spun a row of plates on top of sticks-- you can't spend too much time spinning the "intellectual" plate before running back and spinning the "passionate inspiration" plate or the "color" plate or the "composition" plate. Focus too much on one and the others will crash to the floor.

I found the Dunn advice particularly interesting. I have often argued here against artificial distinctions between art and illustration, but it does seem to me that illustration (for a variety of reasons) is more likely to be an aspect of art where you "aim at your objective strong and true, and be sure to shoot before you get wobbly." Illustration requires timely execution on a decision and is far less tolerant of playfulness, exploration and changes of heart. Unfortunately, this distinction does not always redound to the benefit of illustration. On the good side, I will say that I have seen more than one Dunn painting where he "got wobbly" and painted major changes.

JSL-- Well, Dunn was a brawny painter raised to plow straight furrows out of the Dakota sod but he was hardly without subtlety. Schwartz's Running Man series reminds us, among other things, that artistic objectives don't have to be overtly intellectual and need not be read in a linear way. Even shapes and colors can embody important and sophisticated content, and I believe we find those in Dunn's work as well.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Looking at your response to JSL, if your overall point is that "Schwartz's magnum opus lacks the passion and evocative quality of the studies," I agree with you. I didn't appreciate that as your point in your earlier comment, so I went off on a slightly different tangent.

I share your view that the final, largest painting is not as passionate as the paintings that led up to it, but there are different benefits from the approach taken for that painting-- the faces and shapes have been distorted in a more deliberate way and the colors have been worked more intently, but it is difficult for viewers to appreciate those factors when I shrink a 100" painting to 2". The vitality and looseness of the studies come across better in a blog format.

kev ferrara said...
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Quimby said...

The book arrived today and is truly awesome. It shows a real artist is different than an illustrator because no illustrator would ever do a job like this. This person is a real artist. Thanks for the high recommendation. The final painting spread is awesome too but different from the studies. It has more bright color and flat shapes

kev ferrara said...
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David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I am accustomed to your writing "stark" reactions to pictures, but I may have done you a disservice by offering a thumbnail 1/50 of the size of the original. It may have undermined the effort you normally take to evaluate the work you judge.

You might find yourself in a pretty lonely place with your "stark" reaction. Ed Sorel, who has seen the original, wrote that it was "one of the most brilliant symbolist paintings of the last century." The editor of American Artist wrote that "this remarkable canvas" is "a haunting, unforgettable statement." Arts Magazine called Schwartz a "superbly gifted painter" whose running man painting "is a cat's cradle of linear complexities." Critic and author Tom Wolfe, wrote on Schwartz's book, "If one is looking for a 20th century Winslow Homer-- and who wouldn't be-- I guess he is it. We can add the 21st century, too for good measure...."

All of this doesn't mean that these and others (such as David Levine) are correct and you are wrong, but since they have at least seen the painting and you are forming some rather tough conclusions from a two inch thumbnail, you might want to consider the possibility that you have more to learn about this painting. Since you say you admire his other work, he may have earned a second look.

Quimby-- I agree, I can't think of another illustrator who worked for so long on a large, self-revelatory painting with no client and no market. Such a sustained, personal effort is unusual for illustrators who work on a deadline (and is not even that common for gallery painters).

For those who feel, like Quimby, that Schwartz is more "fine" artist than illustrator, there was a series of posts on the excellent
"Today's Inspiration" blog ( )

Laurence John said...


there's a larger image of the painting on Schwartz's site. besides, most 'masterpieces' can withstand diminished reproduction and still come out strong, so i'm slightly bemused that you're suggesting the scale of this one is so crucial to it's effect.

also, it's not like you to appeal to authority when it comes to judging an artwork's quality. superlatives such as "one of the most brilliant symbolist paintings of the last century" really require backing up with reasoning why if they're to be taken seriously.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurence John said...

Kev, why have you deleted your comments ?

Sean Farrell said...

The descriptive meaning of the painting with its comment on the darkness of competitiveness is more interesting than the painting itself, not the things in the painting, but their execution.

In the process of developing the painting, the artist ventured into an entirely different style and one that doesn't feel convincingly resolved.

Schwartz's illustrations are at home in the graphic world of using the flatness of photos in a graphic and near monotone atmospheric environment. It's a style where thinly applied paint behaves like watercolor in that light from the canvas comes through offering a natural textural and atmospheric feeling of fluctuating tones as if catching varying levels of light and suggesting levels of dimension. Another characteristic of the style is that forms are revealed primarily by their shape, while dimension is added with the removal of paint as highlights and selected additions of darks, often as halftones. It's an effective and lively style which offers plenty of variety and movement and is successful in the sketches for the painting.

But in the final painting I have to wonder if the background is supposed to be coming forward upon the red truck, which is in turn coming forward and flattening the figures and locking them into a frozen moment. Are we supposed to notice the red gap between the central figure as he turns towards us, rather than see more of the figure itself? With the men so frozen we fall to the circular movement of the dogs which are painted in tones that bring them into the foreground and somewhat separate from the men who appear almost as a decal between the truck and the dogs. The shapes of the dogs lack the highlights and quivering of surface tone found in the sketches which are needed here to capture more light and dimension, or more painting to do the same.

Likewise, in his illustrations, primary colors from different families aren't starkly juxtaposed as they are in this final painting and this is a stylistic departure which appears to need more development. The foreground is also noticeably wanting.

But what seems to be happening is that one style of underpainting used in finished painting and utilized cleverly for illustration is extended to another stage of underpainting for finished painting, where tones are held together as halftones awaiting accents and further painting, but which never came. At least in this small j-peg, the painting appears unfinished.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "It's not like you to appeal to authority when it comes to judging an artwork's quality."

It's true that I and many of the people who hang out here take pride (and sometimes even pleasure) in not deferring to "authorities" on art. So many of those authorities-- curators, academics, auction houses-- have proven themselves intellectually and morally bankrupt (one only has to look at the state of the art market today) that they have little credibility with me.

On the other hand, if we are going to disregard the conventional wisdom from art authorities, it seems to me we have a special burden to follow the admonition of the great Seneca: "If you judge, investigate."

For example, I may think Jeff Koons' work is awful, but if 50 museums, art critics and art monographs all tell me he is brilliant, I feel compelled to investigate what the authorities are saying before I dismiss him. So I go to hear him lecture, raise my hand to ask him questions, read some of his interviews, and take a close look at his art. That, I think, is what entitles me to conclude that my first impression was correct, that Koons is a brilliant marketer who makes awful art.

In the case of Daniel Schwartz, the theme of this post was that he was attempting something far more ambitious and personal than almost anything we've seen here from other illustrators (hence my quote from Dryden, "He who would search for pearls, must dive below.") Who else can you name in the history of illustration who has put aside deadlines and paychecks to spend 16 years refining a major theme through hundreds of sketches and studies? I tried to give a sense of his personal standards by quoting from the text of his book ("Nothing satisfied. The background wouldn't do. The dogs wouldn't do....") but it's hard to summarize something of this scope in a blog post, other than to say that I personally found Schwartz's journey "smart, eloquent and illuminating." There's no reason you should believe me, but that's where Seneca comes in. I would expect someone who disregards authorities to look beyond a small jpg before forming a conclusion.

You write, "most 'masterpieces' can withstand diminished reproduction" and I agree that is often the case if all you care about is composition. But do you think you could make any sense of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights at that scale? Could you begin to appreciate Brueghel's The Triumph of Death that way?

From my perspective, if I liked an artist's dozen beautiful preparatory paintings and then he deliberately made major change to the palette and the look of the painting at the very end, I'd be curious as to "why?"

Not everybody would agree with me, but I suspect Seneca would.

Laurence John said...


the glowing quotes you used above are so out of proportion with the quality of the painting that i can only conclude that the writers of them were overly influenced by the fact that the painting took 16 years.

i imagine if someone has spent 16 years on a painting there's a terrible amount of pressure to keep the response positive, especially if you're well acquainted with the artist and don't want to upset them.

also, since i would have to fly to the U.S. and get a personal invite to view the work it's very unlikely i'm ever going to see it in person. in any case, i'm afraid the close ups that you offer don't give me any hope that my first impression of it will be altered. i can tell quite clearly from the close ups what the surface quality is like.

don't get me wrong, i don't think the painting is terrible. i just think the idea that it's "one of the most brilliant symbolist paintings of the last century" is silly, and it's a shame that this painting has been singled out for such praise.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "i can only conclude that the writers of them were overly influenced by the fact that the painting took 16 years."

Well... I suppose we could all speculate about the ulterior motives of a cross section of highly accomplished artists and writers who have nothing to gain financially or professionally, and who (unlike you) have actually seen the painting and read the book, but I'm not sure our musings would satisfy Seneca's mandate to "investigate."

I'm prepared to bring closure to this line of inquiry, recognizing that the fault is mine; this is more than a blog-sized progression of work and I should have focused on details from a few paintings that we could sink our teeth into and discuss on the merits. I fear my capsule descriptions haven't given people much of a basis for evaluating this work.

chris bennett said...

My heart goes out to Schwartz looking at those three stages of the final painting itself. The first of the three is the best. His intellect (literary intellect, that is) gradually got the upper hand and the final state with the red van is a mere shadow of the that marvellous first state. Or perhaps I should put it the opposite way. The final state is a frozen strobe of silent lightening. The thunder is gone.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- I understand, and perhaps should have anticipated, the interest in the dramatic changes in the last stages of the painting. We've seen a lot of speculation about whether Schwartz became overly intellectual or became tired of the project or lost the "thunder."

If you delve into the painting, the artist's path looks very different. (I fought it, but I knew you guys were eventually going to turn me into a transcriber of long passages from this book.) Schwartz wrote, "As I progressed I was becoming more and more involved in the abstract shapes, the patterns and color match-ups that were occurring as I worked. I had always been an admirer of the three large temperas of the Battle of San Romano painted in 1440 by Paolo Uccello, the Italian master: realism and decorativeness seamlessly joined. The stylization and structure in those masterpieces were breathtaking; the forms contained in the overall flat concept were hard-edged in contour but within those edges, forms were rendered completely and richly in the round." Schwartz pushed himself out of his comfort zone ("I found myself forsaking my traditional 19th century formula of deep space, rounded forms and believable coloring. The answers I needed became clear: all-important edges, simplified shapes, and silhouetted heads.") The book shows some interim studies, some which I think are quite strong, some with bright red backgrounds and geometric shapes. Schwartz created a background of a parked van, "fire engine red, sun lit metal gleaming."

In the end he became satisfied with what he called "a tightly organized frieze, a multiple figure painting in which every square inch of form was tightly painted, flat in pattern ...forms ... interlocked like clenched fingers." It's just very different from his illustration style, perhaps closer to the "fine" art of the day, but grounded in a Renaissance inspiration.

Many of the attributes that this audience tends to like, he deliberately, even exuberantly, let go: "Gone was the washy suggestion, gone was the expressionist brushing, gone was deliberate lack of finish, gone was lingering romanticism, gone were unrealized details...."

Viewers of the chain of pictures may well conclude, "I personally prefer the romantic style to flat modern abstraction." I would happily participate in a discussion of the relative merits of the two approaches. I just think it would be presumptuous-- and wrong-- to assume that an artist could only move from one style to the other because he ran out of gas.

chris bennett said...

David, I agree with the thrust of your argument defending Schwartz’s desire for a comprehensive statement, complete and resolved in every part. But I disagree with you regarding the matter of it being a question of style. The fully realised work is a universal goal of every artist regardless of their medium or handwriting. But ‘finish’, be it hard edges, neatness, tidiness, cleanness, tightness, flat pattern or what have you, should not be confused with ‘resolution’.

And this is why I say Schwartz’s intellect tripped up his synthesising instinct, caused it to stumble and arrange for it to be carried off in a stretcher. (I overstate the case for mild comic effect, but you get my drift I hope). Those ‘attributes’ I listed are things the linear mind grasps on to. They are its crampons in the shifting glacier of choices. Whenever it loses faith in its Sherpa with his synthesising knowledge of the mountain, it meanders forever on the slopes and, for want of anything better to do, spruces up base camp as compensation for missing the summit. That’s how I see it anyway.

I have the book on order (so many thanks David for your bringing this artist to my attention). Whether my own instinctive assumption about what happened to Schwartz’s creative endeavour based on the evidence you have posted is correct, remains to be seen! I will be fascinated to read his account.

To sum up, I don’t think he moved from one style to the other because he ran out of gas. I think his intellect ran out on its poet.

Laurence John said...


"all-important edges, simplified shapes, and silhouetted heads" sounds great on paper, but the garish colours and arbitrary tonal relations of Schwart'z work gives it a 'collaged' look which reminds of pop art rather than Quattrocento stylization. Hockney rather than Uccello.

i think Grant Wood found his own answers to some very similar pictorial problems with much success.

also, i'd add Gary Kelley to the 'light tones bounded by dark' list i began in your first post on Schwartz.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett and Laurence John-- I think I understand the issues you are raising. I just added two more studies from Schwartz's book, ones leading up to the final painting. I wonder if they'll shine any light on the missing stages, and if that affects your reaction one way or another.

Sean Farrell wrote: "The descriptive meaning of the painting with its comment on the darkness of competitiveness is more interesting than the painting itself, not the things in the painting, but their execution."

I too was very taken with the written descriptions. I still believe that a painting should stand by itself, and not require the viewer to read some accompanying polemic. However, Schwartz seems to be one of those artists, like his friends David Levine and Burton Silverman, who is exceptionally literate and articulate, so it is a separate pleasure to read his thoughts on the painting process.

As you can tell, a number of people have raised an eyebrow over the way that "the artist ventured into an entirely different style." As I noted to Chris Bennett and Laurence John above, I have added two studies that were interim steps leading up to the final painting, and would be interested to hear whether that makes more sense of Schwartz's ultimate direction for you.

Thanks for writing.

chris bennett said...

Thanks David, for posting those extra images. It seems to me that in the earlier studies and states Schwartz was thinking in terms of a total envelope in which space and form were a continuum, a yin-yang flux; the figures wedded to their environment, the environment an extension of the figures. These later studies betray the opposite thinking; the figures are seen as playing pieces on a game board, prepared and rehearsed to be placed like actors on a stage. In the earlier studies the figures breathed the air and grew from their milieu. These two later studies are like racing cars being prepared in a workshop, ready for the smooth tarmac of the racing circuit.

So, just on the evidence of these two studies, I’d say they endorse what I said in my previous posts.

Sean Farrell said...

David, thank you for the two new images and the quote on Paolo Uccello.

The painting has grown on me while thinking about its idea, the relationship of dogs to men and the development of the movement of the men through the series of studies.

The highly chromatic accents of color seem like attempts to do with color what was previously being done with a dramatic use of tone in the sketches. The red, white, blue and green may be symbolic, but visually are still suffering from a lack of space in the group of men, as the flesh tones are gobbled up by the stronger red.

I like the painting but feel it would have benefited from visual contrast of the kind of lighting found in the top figure of the two new ones you added. Without such relief I find myself drawn into a complexity of negative spaces of highly charged chroma with less interesting tonal stuff (subject matter) in front of them. The result is an image partially accented as if it were a kind of drawing. The more I look at it, the more unfinished it feels.

That some may disagree with your enthusiasm for the painting doesn't mean you haven't brought an exciting subject to your readers.

It is more challenging to look at something that may or may not be working and to try and figure out why, than it is to look at some image following a simple formula. Thanks.

Sean Farrell said...

I just wanted to add that the arrangement of figures through the progression of studies did become more interesting.

The cropping of the figures at the front and tail end of the group created a continuous movement through the men themselves, rather than being driven left and then right by the light. The addition of the van, also attached in the same way to the sides does the same. But as both elements are cropped they fall behind the side edges adding distance and reducing intimacy.

The introduction of the turning figure changes the herd-like behavior into something human and adds intimacy, drawing us back into the central part of the image. The directional stuff going on in the group of dogs turning among themselves is also engaging. All of the above developed through the course of the studies and was one improvement upon the previous stage.

The mystery is why did the artist reduce the light? Was it because our instinct to move towards light was symbolically wrong for the meaning of the image? Or was it to emulate the images of Uccello? The reduction of the light did deaden the image, no doubt and then the image became an interplay of negative and positive shapes dominated by chroma or tone. I like the placement of the green, but the play between tone and chroma in negative and positive shapes became a battle of background and foreground.

chris bennett said...

I agree with much of what you have said Sean. The patterning has indeed been brought more to the fore and consequently our attention. But the effect is to make it into an intriguing optical game that severely side-lines the original purpose of the image, and therefore greatly diminishes it.

Uccello's battle picture is like a chess match, but its power stems from how the brutality is seen as if from an impartial grand master god, very much in the way that Kubrick films the utra-violence in A Clockwork Orange, or any of the emotional events in his films in general.

Schwartz'z image is not explicit about the violence, it infers, suggests and alludes to its possibility. Because the violence is not explicit in the Schwartz, the way in which the Uccello plays coolness of surface against the subject's hotness does not register properly in his running men picture.

Anonymous said...

Those extra images help a lot especially the one with that red background. I see more about what Schwartz had in mind with his finish. I like that he did not feel limited to the style he worked in. He was a great painter.


Anonymous said...

Is the one with the red van the 'magnum opus'? It's the worst and the one that looks most like illustration. Seeing it big won't fix the stiffness, color issues, lack of motion, etc... Kind of a depressing story actually, some of the later studies are good.

The last image works kind of well as abstract gay erotica. Is that in the monograph or did you make it yourself?

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- Does it bother you more that it looks "like ilustration" or that it looks "gay"? I'm afraid neither one counts as an insult where I come from.

Anonymous said...

I was genuinely curious. It's much more interesting than the painting, the suggestion of a sailor's hat and then the crotch shots; the four images create a narrative but I was wondering if you created it out of his work or he found it in his own.

And my description of it as illustration was meant to say that the more an illustrator works to be a painter, the more they end up back at the illustration where they are most natural. I found the idea that 16 years of effort resulted in something that looks like it was done on deadline somewhat dispiriting.