Jerome Schwartz started painting full-time some ten years ago. He has focused primarily on landscape painting, with an emphasis on the places he knows well: Philadelphia, and the Cape Cod locales of Sandy Neck, Truro, Wellfleet, Provincetown, and Chatham, where he has been spending summers for decades. Originally from New York City, now residing in Philadelphia, Schwartz was educated at Columbia University, receiving BA, MA and PhD degrees. In the course of his tenure as professor of French language and literature at the University of Pittsburgh, he spent many years in France, and is steeped in the culture, language and literature of that country. Schwartz’s 1990 book on Rabelais, entitled Irony and Ideology: Structures of Subversion, has recently been reissued in paperback (rpt. Cambridge University Press, 2009). It explores the ambivalent relations between Rabelais’s serious religious and political ideas and the comic outbursts that play against them. As a painter he is fascinated by some of the same problems that he encountered in his scholarly work, namely, the ambiguities inherent in the aesthetic representation of reality.

            With specific regard to landscape painting, Schwartz posits a fundamental irony, i.e., the so-called objective reality of places versus the transformative act of “landscape” as an art form. According to Schwartz, landscape in this latter sense, is neither exact replica nor pure invention, but exists as a tension between an inner, subjective intentionality and the physical world.

            Not content with repeating himself, Schwartz has branched out from painting representationally to painting more abstractly. This can be seen most clearly in Galleries 1 and 2, where his latest work is displayed. His brushwork, at first precise, has grown looser, in his search for a style of painting at once abstract yet not detached from visual reality. In the Hubble telescope images of outer space, he finds a subject that grows out of landscape, but that, at the same time, is capable of transporting us beyond the limits and limitations of our earthbound home, out towards the mysteries beyond what the naked eye can see. He describes the exhilaration he experienced when painting these spacescapes: “I feel so liberated, so free, not to be bound by constraints of resemblance to any place we all know and take for granted. Liberated from the horizon line and earthbound space, I can turn my picture in any direction, and am not bound by the conventions of up or down, left or right.” He does not sign the front of these paintings, inviting viewers to turn them upside down or sideways, as they wish. At the same time, while these paintings are all inspired by advances in space technology, Schwartz’s paintings still remain expressions of his own aesthetic sensibility. His most recent paintings, created from observations of nature in 2009, depart from his earlier landscapes in almost cinematic ways of seeing: not just ‘long shots’ , or conventional landscapes seen from a distance but extreme close-ups as well, for example in the Black Pond Series, in Gallery 2: here the eye composes what appears to be an abstraction, yet the image corresponds to observed fact. Thus these paintings may be said to bridge the gap between representation and abstraction.

            Galleries 3 through 6 divide Schwartz’s work into several categories by subject: Philadelphia cityscapes; Cape Cod landscapes and seascapes, and Western, Southwestern, and Mexican landscapes. Visitors to the site are invited to browse in these galleries to gain a sense of Schwartz’s sensuous feeling for color, the interplay in his work between movement and drama, on the one hand, and calm and stillness, on the other. The consistent and characteristic subjective presence of the artist and his sensitive eye on the world remains the predominant unifying force behind the variety of the subjects he chooses to paint and the style in which they are painted.

 

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