Tag Archives: Ilya Schor

Day by Day in the Studio 13: August 15

Tomorrow August 16, the exhibition Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor opens at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. This exhibition brings to fruition a project I first thought of about five years ago. People have suggested to me that this will be a very emotional experience for me. Of necessity, in order to function, I have tried to discount this and see it simply as work to be done, but, as the works are installed, I am overwhelmed.

I wonder if people who look at art or who look at the artworld, and that includes young artists at the beginning of their life as an artist, know how much, practically speaking, it takes to get anything, however modest, done as or for an artist, how much psychic energy it takes to believe in artworks and to make others believe in them, particularly the degree of intensity of belief that at least one person must feel for artwork in order for it to survive after an artist’s death.

It is hard enough to maintain that belief in yourself as an artist and to act upon it in the face of the many rejections that most artists encounter, but to maintain that belief in artists who have died is even more difficult. You have to surmount the stasis their oeuvre and reputation fall into: as in a game of musical chairs or spin the bottle, the person’s reputation at their death is set at a mark, and then, unless the artist was already world famous and iconic and even if that is the case, the oeuvre is as much a burden as it may be a joy to the heirs and the reputation generally begins to recede from that mark achieved in lifetime. If the mark is slight, no matter the quality of the work, the person left with the responsibility of the work must go against the tide of history and of the market to maintain the work and bring the reputation back to the mark or forward to transform the recognition of the work. It is very hard to do. You become the custodian not just of the artist’s qualities and talents but also of that artist’s doubts and even the verities of their reputation. It’s hard enough for the artists to do in their life and harder to do for those who continue.

Several of my friends are artists whose parents were artists: like me they carry the double burden of belief, in their own work and in their parents’ work. Mimi Gross has done an incredible job developing The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, Susan Bee has curated exhibitions of the work of her father Sigmund Laufer and her mother Miriam Laufer. I spent several years editing The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov. Tworkov’s wife Wally and then his daughters Hermine Ford and Helen Tworkov had worked for over twenty years to have these writings edited and published. Jack died in 1982. Selections from his writings were included in the catalogue of Jack Tworkov: Paintings, 1928-1982, held in 1987 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. I began serious work on the texts in around 2003, The Extreme of the Middle was published by Yale University Press in June 2009. I did the work because I loved Jack and believed fiercely in his work and his writing.

My father died in 1961. My mother did everything she could to keep his work secure and his name in the world. She died in 2006. Included in Abstract Marriage are works by my father that were last exhibited in the retrospective of his work held at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1965 and that are unknown relative to other aspects of his work and works by my mother that have never been exhibited before.

In the next few days I hope to write a post about my parents’ show, but today I mark Jack’s memory with a drawing I did on his birthday, August 15, in the summer of 1982, as he lay dying at his home in Provincetown. The drawing is called For Jack’s Leaving. Jack loved the bay of Provincetown, the sand flats, the daily swim. In the drawing, I depicted that moment when the outgoing tide pulls water out of the bay through shallow channels, rivers two or three inches deep running out through the sand flats. The figure goes through a narrow channel towards the open sea, like a reverse of birth.

In his diaries, Jack wrote on his birthday August 15, 1953

August 15, 1953

Technically my birthday. The idea had crossed my mind today that I am in every way a self-made man. Even my name and my birthday are self-made. To be fair, I simply mean that my birthday was only a rough approximation like my name.

Typically scrupulous, he later corrected himself, he had written that entry into his journal a couple of days early. But then, on August 22, 1953, he reflected on the great cultural leap he and his sister Janice Biala made after they were brought to America as children.

Janice and I are the first in our line. Our parents are as distinct from us, as the American Indians. It is impossible to convey to a western mind what my mother is. The distance between her and me can only be counted in centuries. But not only time stands between us but differences in adaptation as vital as that between sea and land animals. In fact I think of Janice and me as having become land animals in one jump. As if our parents had been utterly sea animals. Yet we are only land animals of one generation with all the weaknesses that implies. I was brought up to regard timidity as if it were the first rule of life. And the cancer of indolence was planted in me in the cheder. I was brought up the first ten years of my life for another environment. My mother is to this day sealed in that environment, and she has no crack, no window, to look out upon the world. My own distinct situation, the inner break from my mother, did not become apparent to me till so late in life. Did I become aware too late? If I were willing to take all the risks could my life still become vigorous? Or is that question itself a sign of my still unsolved problem? Should a man dream to change the caste of his life when he is past fifty. Does maturity mean to live with one self whatever the self is?

The summer my father died, the Tworkovs invited my mother and me to spend a month with them in their house in Provincetown. Jack wrote in his journal of my father’s death but also of how the work of the artist lives on after his death:

August 8, 1961, P’town.

No place in this notebook have I so far noticed the death of my beloved friend Ilya. His image hovers in my mind. His lovely gayety, the sparkle, the aliveness of his eyes, the humor that played on his lips like honeybees on flowers. Now Resia is here and Mira. We sat long over our coffee this morning talking about people and gradually we drifted into talking about Ilya, each of us displaying our love for him as if he were alive and with us. Even through her unbearable grief her face suffuses with light when I praise Ilya. […] She said something remarkable recalling Ilya. She said, the test of a work is does it speak for the artist after he’s gone. In life the artist persuaded us by his personality, but after he’s gone only his work is left to persuade us.

 

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Day by Day in the Studio 12: August 11

Three Tables

August 11, 2011

A drawing from August 11, 2011 finds me at a table, at night. Instead of picturing myself at the table where I did the drawing, I have placed myself where I live much of my life, in front of  my computer, at another table. The table is the one I am writing this blog post on now, a small Parsons-style table my sister Naomi bought for herself to use to write sitting at the same spot: for many years it had a small but treasured view of the Provincetown bay, but over the years two trees have come to block that view…I used to wonder what I could pour onto the roots of the first tree in order to stunt its growth or even kill it, by the time the second one was planted smack in front of the window, the view was mostly gone. She loved that view but she would still love looking out at the sky through the leaves. She always loved the way one could see Norman Mailer sitting in his little study in both his houses here, looking out at the bay, and liked to think of herself in a company of people who have been writers in this place. We shared that love of tradition and of belonging to a place, an American place we felt that through time we could claim to belong to, I think because we also shared the trauma of displacement, one we had not experienced ourselves, but that marked our lives, that of our parents’ forced displacement from Europe.

The drawing was done at another table, a jeweler’s worktable that has been in my family for about 70 years. It was my father Ilya Schor’s worktable in New York, I think perhaps as far back as the 1940s, certainly as far back as 1955. When my mother bought this house, she commissioned a young artist to build a worktable identical to it. The new table stayed in New York, and she brought the old one up here to Provincetown where she worked several months a year for the next 35 years. She always cleared and cleaned the table before her return to New York, covering it with a layer of the New York Times. The first summer after she died I felt the table should not be left alone. I put a fresh layer of newspaper down, unpacked inks, gouaches, brushes, and sketchbook. Sitting at that worktable at night in a pool of light from an ancient fluorescent desk lamp, I worked my way back into life. The worktable was an engine of creativity, a hearth. I thought of it so much as sitting down to her table and continuing that only later did I remember that it was not just her desk, but also his, the one she had sat down to, to continue the work.

Resia Schor, working in Provincetown at age 91, 2002.

Ilya, Resia, and Mira Schor’s worktable, August 11, 2013

I paint on another table where I have worked since before graduate school, next to windows with starched gauze white curtains. I would be happiest having ten such tables, I could use an infinite amount of tables, I am pea-green with envy at artists who have huge studios and giant tables (the kind you see in documentaries, where the artist’s assistant religiously brings out some work for the great man to work on) but this one, always more than half occupied with supplies, has been a place I can work.

Painting table, Provincetown, August 11, 2013

You cannot go home again, in some basic sense: today I walked past the house where I lived when my family was intact, the summers we first came to Provincetown when my father was still alive. Sometime in the 1980s I had the eerie experience of walking past the door and as a young girl came out I heard her mother call her, “Mira.” I had never met or heard of anyone with my name until Marilyn French wrote The Women’s Room, with a heroine of that name, now here was a child named perhaps for that heroine, coming out of the house I had spent perhaps the happiest times of my life. But long since the door, which opened directly to an staircase to the second floor apartment we rented, was boarded up and the entrance moved to the side. But I can sit at my father and mother’s worktable. Tables must be stable and this link to the past creates a kind of stability of tradition and time.

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Day by Day in the Studio 10: August 3

August 3, 1976

Mira Schor, Postcard: From the Deep Pool of Dreams to Landlocked, August 3, 1976. Ink, dry pigment, medium on rice paper, c. 3 1/2 x 6 in.

Mira Schor, Two Postcards (side 1), August 3, 1976. Ink, collage, medium on rice paper, c. 4 x 6 in. each

Mira Schor, Two Postcards (side 2), August 3, 1976. Ink, collage, medium on rice paper, c. 4 x 6 in. each

Postcards/blog posts. You mail a postcard, although I did not mail the postcards I made as artworks in 1976-77. You “publish” a blog post and it goes out into the mysteriously infinite internet, including in my case to a number of subscribers who I believe get these posts as emails. The similarity is that they arrive unexpectedly. This series of posts, Day by Day in the Studio–short spontaneously written essays suggested by works done on particular days in the summer over a period of about 40 years, including only those that I have a specifically dated record of on the hard drive I am working on this summer–has received mixed response as best I can tell. I regularly get one or two unsubscribe notices after each post. This is plain rude and unnecessary behavior, people! I subscribe to many blogs and even old fashioned email posts and, top secret, I don’t read all of them every time, I often don’t have time, so I understand that no one else has any more time than I do, and I’m not necessarily interested in all of them, but I have never clicked “unsubscribe,” first, because it would hurt the person’s feelings and, by the way, it’s not anonymous, the unsubscribe notice includes the person’s email address which may contain their whole name or enough of it, and, second, because by scanning these blog posts in even the most cursory manner I do get a basic sense of what various people are thinking about and doing, and sometimes I find something I like or learn from so it is always informative on some level. On the other hand, I have been getting very supportive emails from other artists including from people I do not know in person, but through Facebook and my writing, which I am glad of because I do try to lace my personal reflections with comments of more general interest to other artists.

In one of these emails, William Conger, a Chicago-based painter, wrote asking

I’m very interested in notions of duality on literature and art. This seems to be a central theme in Terry Eagleton’s recent The Event of Literature. Would you care to say why you have frequently chosen to work on both sides of a translucent surface as if the image/content depends on their integrated presentation?

I was grateful to able to address what is an important aspect of how I have often structured works and I warned him I might use my response to him in a later post and indeed here is it.

I think that before any kind of analysis (in the psychoanalytic sense as well as any other) of why I work on both sides of the translucent paper, I owe that process to inheritance. Both my parents worked on both sides of every object they made, jewelry, Judaica, and sculpture, and my father painted on both sides of the pieces of cardboard he painted on–the image on the back was not translucent or functional as in my drawings, but in both cases there is always a sense of discovery and pleasure when you see the reverse side or the interior. In my mother’s work in particular, she recognized the visual power of the back of her works in silver, so that the functional, unintentional forms that helped created the “front” image was just as interesting though often with a darker feeling..if you look at my blog and search for the posts on both their work, Resia Schor and Ilya Schor, you will see examples of what I’m describing. I’m just finishing work on a catalogue for a show this summer here in Provincetown of their sculpture and that aspect of their work is featured in the catalogue.

I also find that as I began to work with rice paper and through experimentation began to work on both sides, then deliberately to work one side to create the other, that the “back” side often had a vigor that sprang from decision made purely instrumentally, thus without self-consciousness, and gradually the “back” became “the front” or no distinction could be made. Although oil painting doesn’t allow for that particular method of production of a surface, I try to remember the freshness that comes from unintentionally.

Here are examples of the back and front of works by my parents that will be exhibited in the exhibition Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor, opening August 16 at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

Ilya Schor, Angel (back and front), c.1959-60. Brass with brass wire, 26 1/4 x 11 1/2 x 7 in. riveted to a wood base.

Resia Schor, Nike (front and back), 1981. Brass, Plexiglas, gouache on paper, 12 x 12 in.

And here are other examples of how they worked the back and the front of almost every work they made. In the case of my father, the back most often functions as a kind of unconscious of the work, a night for day, or simply provides a surplus of delight, visual pleasure where it would not ordinarily be seen, as in the front and back of a bracelet in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but rarely is it directly instrumental or indexical, unlike the back’s of my mother’s works, as in the pendant below, where the back leaves open to view how the work was made while creating an image as, if not more, interesting than the “front.” (I demonstrate the delightful complexities of my father’s bracelet in my 2003 video on my parents’ work, The Tale of the Goldsmith’s Floor, an illustrated video script appeared in differences in 2003).

Ilya Schor, Bracelet (front and back of a detail), 1958. Silver, gold, diamonds, approximately 6 x 1 1.5 in. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Resia Schor, Pendant. Silver and gold, approximately 4 x 2 1/2 in.

When I began to paint in oil in the early ’80s, the medium presented challenges, many of them of a nature familiar to anyone who has tried to master this medium–how to effectively be either loose or tight, and how to avoid mud, the most feared by-product of first attempts–and some that were particular to how I had previously arrived at an image. For years I worked both sides of rice paper so that several experiences of the creation of the image were visible at the same time in the final layer: dry pigment on the back of the paper pushed color and highlighting through the front without being present as a tactile element, while the dry pigment on the front as tangible as a sculptural element. In oil I had to figure out a way to make these complexities of layering happen as oil painting allows, where most of the layers are covered over and you cannot see through to the beginning of work and the back doesn’t penetrate the front except chemically and through refraction of light through layers of matter of which the viewer is not consciously aware: in oil painting, the under layers do affect the final surface in many ways causing conservatorial stability or havoc, but these layers are mostly hidden to the viewer and thus seem to operate as alchemy–leading to the fascination infrared imaging of paintings holds for us, as we discover what is going on in some of those unseen layers.

August 3, 2003

Mira Schor, Painting (yellow on blue), 2003. Oil on linen, 30 x 36 in.

It took a long time to adjust to the way in which the layering of an oil painting goes from a bottom layer (whose back is closed to us by sizing) to the visible final layer which is the painting image, here in a work that represents what it is and what I do, painting, or pain-t-ing as some might read it.

Meanwhile I continue to work on a type of paper which allows me to work front and back though because it is less resilient than rice paper, I mainly put white gesso on the back so that it gives an overall highlight to the work while also offering another, acrylic layer of matter to thicken and strengthen the work.

Mira Schor, Untitled, end July 2012. Ink on tracing paper with gesso on reverse side, c. 18 x 30 in.

While I continue to work both sides of paper, I also appreciate the blunt opacity of oil.

August 3, 2012

Mira Schor, The Bland Face of Expropriation (II), August 3, 2012. Oil on linen, 18 x 30 in.

Many recent paintings combine drawing and painting techniques and ethos such that I call them oil-assisted drawings: at best they keep intact the potential for spontaneous line that is more easily achieved in drawing while adding the color and materiality of oil paint, whether it be glaze or a beautiful opaque pigment used straight from the tube onto the canvas, in the case of this painting also finished August 3, 2012, a tube of Old Holland Cobalt Blue Turquoise that I had hanging around the studio since the ’90s. The painting presents two spaces–the garden in a summer’s night, and the classroom in winter, and it suggests a third, the space that is the ground of the whole painting, the flat gesso “wall” I create on linen, so that in the painting the figure in the dream of winter, dreams of an escape, which is back to the ground of painting.

Mira Schor, Fallow Field Series: Last Dream of Summer, August 3, 2012. Oil, ink on gesso on linen, 18 x 30 in.

The rapturous and desperate attempt to draw enough strength from the earth to deal with winter in the city trapped in rooms, recalled some important influences and this summer I became taken with the necessity to see and read something again that I had been introduced to at the very beginning of my becoming an artist, a beautiful catalogue on Rajput Painting from a show at Asia House in New York in 1960. The paintings reproduced in this catalogue–small works on paper, combining vivid color, rich narrative, radiant nature, and sometimes language–gave me support at a time when painting still generally had to be large, abstract, oil or acrylic on canvas, with no evident personal or narrative content to speak of. As important as the paintings reproduced in the catalogue were ancient Indian poems accompanying three or four particularly rapturous paintings. A few misremembered words of one of the poems has been like a refrain of a song in my mind this summer, “all rain and Vrindavana.” Googling Vrindavana did not make the remembered line make sense and I wanted to assure myself of my memory so much that I ordered a second copy for my studio here–a hardcover catalogue from 1961 turned out to be available and cheap online– and it arrived today, August 3, 2013.

This night of rain and rapture, all Vrindavana/ unmoored, adrift, lost in the solid dark of rain/ in torrents of sweet rain.

Wild lightning in the lap of the dark;/ Radha ever more richly plays,/ while sidelong in the slippery path a way is felt,/ vermilion, musk, and sandal-mark all turn to mud/ in torrents of sweet rain.

Narrotama, who cannot swim, drowns in the unhorizoned sea.

Narottama Das, 16th Century, trans.: Deben Bhattacharya

 

 

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I was born: Past, Present, and

I was born. Here is the bill:

I was born, in the first hour after midnight on a first of June, a long awaited second child, much beloved.

 

A child is among many things a step into the future. So, surely, my parents did not consciously say, on this baby we will place the burden of our remembrance, our memories, the meaning of our lives and our work.

But so it is.

As I first became an artist, I began to consider some of this burden of memory.

Mira Schor, Tombs, 1972, gouache on paper, 22×30 in.

 

Now I am used to it, that burden is my destiny.

Mira Schor, sketchbook, 2009.

I should say that what I call “the burden” is filled with what I consider treasures.

I open a drawer. What will I find in it today?

These slightly gloomy/elegiac thoughts, on my birthday, come from working in recent days to pull together material for the catalogue for the show I have curated, Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor.

Just in the past few weeks I have come upon and scanned many things I had not seen before, including this grant application, apparently never sent, I’m not sure why each page is different, or who typed this, because I don’t believe we owned a typewriter in those days, in 1955.

“I am a Jewish artist from Poland. I lost all my creations and tools while escaping in 1941 from the Nazi occupied part of France to Marseille and later on from there to the USA. I was twice arrested by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp near Marseille. I was released when I received my American Visa.” (Ilya Schor, unsubmitted grant application to the Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany, 1955.) Note: My father was indeed picked up and interned during their wait for a Visa in Marseille, the whole thing shades of the movie Casablanca, down to a mother who looked a bit like Ingrid Bergman and the constant search for letters of transit, but he was to my knowledge picked up by Vichy forces, not by the Nazis directly. I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale if he had.

Hanging, a manual drill that my father had brought from Europe.

 

Ilya Schor, Torah Crown, believed destroyed in a synagogue fire in the 1950s

and so on and so on, (today’s post contains only material related to my father, Ilya, but there is much work by my mother, Resia, for another day).

This archival and artistic material–paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, letters, and books, and the lines of thought they suggest–forms the seeds of the book I want to write, that I have been working on all my life. It is a cultural autobiography, and it begins with them and then–though a recently published “as told to” autobiography by one of my contemporaries reminds me that I also want to write about the art world since I entered it, to recuperate closer histories constantly being unwritten by patriarchy. But plunging into the Schor material I’ve shown you bits of here today is to plunge into the powerful emotion of memory. Even working on the Tworkov material I sometimes felt overcome by the weight and emotions of the past. That I can withstand, it is fascinating. Part girl reporter, part historian, part archivist, part Sherlock Holmes,  I love archives, I love history. But at the moment I feel I have spent too much time in it and I am gladly about to go back to painting in the present.

Mira Schor, Spring Growth, 2012. Ink and oil on gesso on linen, 14 x 18 in.

So the mournful tone of this birthday blog post is not because of the emotional nature of the project, but because my ability to do it is so fraught, so endangered, because the austerity economy that has me and millions of other people in its stranglehold may not allow me to do the project as I want. I don’t want to do it from exile but from intimacy.

It was reported in the New York Times yesterday that the cost of restoring Donald Judd’s studio home in Soho cost $23 million. The result sounds fantastic, I can’t wait to see it. I admire Judd and I understand the fetishistic desire to put everything exactly in the place it had been placed by him. I admire and applaud his children for the monumental work they have done to make this happen. And I hope but wonder how I will find the considerably lesser amount necessary for me to do what I feel I need to do, fulfill the burden of memory that my parents did not know would rest on me when I was born. And although it may seem of interest only to me, I mean to make it useful to others.

Ilya and Resia Schor’s studio, New York City, 1976

This morning a friend asks me how I will spend the day, before we meet to see a movie (Hannah Arendt, Eichmann, the past). I don’t know. Sit under a tree, or perhaps sit at my parents’ work table and try to do even one small drawing.

Studio, June 1, 2013

 

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A drawing

I bring to my life as a teacher of art aspects of my own education as an artist. Some elements of that education are part of the history of post war American art and education, for example the shift from formalism in the modernist era to the experiential, experimental, and political tendencies of my graduate education at CalArts in the early 70s. I can sift these experiences through a critical analysis shaped by subsequent developments in art and art education and bring that layered knowledge to my teaching at any moment with a confidence that these experiences are part of a history that can be discussed and shared as part of a legitimated common heritage within the arts.

But there are parts of my experience and of my development as an artist that I realize cannot be extrapolated as easily to anyone else’s use: the most irreducible of such experiences is the fact that my parents were artists and that I watched them work from an early age, as they worked at home.

I was reminded of this today when I was putting something back into a closet where I keep most of the works on paper by my father Ilya Schor and noticed some sheets of stiff paper that were just stuck under something else. This closet has a cabinet of Ali Baba character to it: I reach into a dark corner and out comes some wonderful drawing or painting or engraving, on some scrap of paper I hadn’t seen before, and today was no exception to this seemingly magical uncovering of random treasures–at least to me. It is an experience which can be as daunting as it is wondrous, since I am responsible for somehow cataloging, preserving, and determining the fate of the works that I discover. Among the sheets of paper  I discovered today was a self-portrait drawing. Judging from the thinness of his face, I would guess it was done in the late 1940s or early 1950s. He worked with India ink and used a small steel-nibbed dip pen, like this one, used by my mother, still in their studio:

Before he went to art school in Warsaw, he had, as a teenager, been trained as an engraver, in Eastern Europe, in around 1920.

What strikes me today looking at this newly discovered self-portrait drawing is the effortless complexity of drawing marks that go into delineating his cheek bones, forehead, eyes, these last never actually outlined, just suggested by an intense deepening flurry of sharp little marks. I am also struck by how the lines of ink seem to go against the grain of form: they do not operate in an academic version of rendering, and yet the convex and concave lines somehow add up to an accurate suggestion of volume and contour.

I share this drawing today because it is just one example of the combination of skill in a traditional art practice–representational drawing–and visual intelligence in action that I could watch up close as a child: the image I always come back to in my memory is of being just tall enough that my eyes were level with my father’s hands as he sat and worked at his table in the workshop off of our kitchen. He was happy to let me watch and to show me a few tricks or flourishes. To watch him summon representation out of such abstraction, out of a flurry of gestures of the hand, with deft skill, speed, focus, and pleasure, was a total pleasure, it was very absorbing, and as good as any magic act a child could watch, and it was a daily practical lesson in art making of a kind that now unfortunately either comes trapped in outdated academic tropes or is simply not part of what a contemporary artist might think was useful or necessary to representing contemporary media culture. Children today are being described as “Generation Swipe,” so the trend away from the steel-nibbed dip pen will continue, as art will continue, but such  absorption in an embodied effort to bridge the gap between the real and representation still carries meaning.

 

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