Probe, acrylic and photo transfer on wood, 14” x 11” (2012)
The Landing, acrylic and photo transfer on wood, 14” x 11” (2012)
Balkan, acrylic on wood, 8” x 6” (2012)
Afternoon, acrylic and gesso on wood, 7” x 7” x 14” (2012)
Big Heaven, acrylic and gesso on wood, 7” x 7” x 14” (2012)
Throne for a New Ubu, acrylic and gesso on wood, 14” x 14” x 7” (2012)
Intoducing the work of Ward Schumaker who is an artist, living and working in San Fancisco and showing with Zietgiest Gallery in Nashville TN. He is married to artist Vivienne Flesher. Ward and Vivienne just spent a year living and working in New York City and was strongly affected by his time there. He is a restless artist, creating both in fine art and commercial art. He makes sculpture, paintings, drawings and aritst books. He is an inspiration to me for the way he continues to explore his world and expand and deepen his body of work at the same time. Ward was kind enough to do an interview with me and send along some images of his new work. Welcome to his world!
1. Ward, what are the earliest memories you have of drawing or making things?
2. Are there other creatives running through your family history? If so what did they do?
I come from a creative family.
My father’s artistry consisted of drawings; he worked as a civil engineer for the railroad. The high point of his life arrived when he directed the erection of a trio of bridges he designed, for trains, over the Snake River. For three years he lived in one room of a hotel in Weiser, Idaho. In the summer, I would travel there to live with him. Most often he was a stern and sour parent, but perhaps because he was finally and for once, happy, he played frivolous and each morning allowed me to push down the handle that detonated the dynamite that blew holes in the canyon walls. After the dust had more-or-less settled, I would run to the rubble and search for geodes. At night, in the hotel room’s one big bed, I would break open the geodes and admire the crystals inside, sparkling beneath the reading lamp; across the room, my father smoked at a small table, listing how many rivets had been used that week, how many pounds of steel, how many injuries.
At separate times, both my mother and my Aunt Helen acted as sole teacher of a one-room schoolhouse near Cozad, Nebraska. They were artists, and their medium was crêpe paper. They could make anything from crêpe paper, but their gloire derived from the costumes they created: Uncle Sam with stripes and tall hat, Abraham Lincoln with beard and tall hat, Ben Franklin with wig and no hat. By time I was born, my family had moved to the city (Omaha) but weekends we’d return to the country to be with family––and to attend the school’s performances: 20 Polish-speaking kids, 5-8 years old, 19 of them dressed as paper onions; the one non-onion dressed in pink, as a petunia, singing in newly-learned English, “I’m a little, lone petunia in an onion patch and all I do is cry all day.”
So my early life was filled with wonder and culture.
Naturally, I wanted to become an artist. But there was stiff competition: sibling competition. My brother Moishe-Millard constructed highly detailed HO gauge model trains, set in a countryside filled with forests made of lichen and toothpicks, villages of balsa and papier-mâché. My brothers Rand and Roger were dancers, one with snakes in his mouth, the other jumping in and out of fire hoops: each intent on keeping alive native-American culture (though they, themselves, were blond as corn silk). With all this competition, I had to work hard forge a unique identity. Luckily, I chanced upon a Life Magazine article on Jackson Pollack, the article with the famous photos of him dripping paint on a canvas on the floor, and I knew: this is what I have to do to be somebody, to matter. Through Pollack’s aesthetic, I felt I could include it all: bridges, geodes, onions and petunias, and a hundred-fifty bull snakes, dancing through hoops.
4. I know your wife is also a very gifted artist as well. Do you give each other suggestions or critiques or do you just keep out of the way of each other’s creative process?
If either of us even looks in the direction of a piece of art while the other is creating it, the work must be destroyed; that’s the rule. There can be no exceptions. So we are careful while crossing each other’s territory. Which for her is upstairs, for me, down. But every once in a while, one comes crying to the other: help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. Then one consoles the other. And advises. Unfortunately, the advice never seems to work, not even from such a loving source. But soon after, inexplicably, the unfortunate one finds he’s back at work, a bit further from failure, a bit closer to success. Perhaps the advice did work? Nevertheless in no time the sign is re-hung on the studio door: do not enter, on pain of death.
My wife is the most talented person I’ve ever met (and I’ve known some very talented people); just living with her, day to day, provides me with guidance and instruction. But face it: when you are working on a piece of art, the only answer lies someplace deep inside, with a voice that says: do this, not that.
5. When I spend time with your work I pick up on a spiritual vibe. Can you say anything about that? Is there a spiritual dimension to your work or am I just projecting that on it?
Most of my work begins with the inquiry: where can I get help on this? And most of the work I prize seems to include the answer: from someplace inside, who knows where. So, though I am totally inept at it, I have meditated 20 minutes a day for 40 years, in hopes of gaining help. But in truth, after all this time, I have little faith in anything except unhappiness and suffering. Still, it’s hard to imagine facing a blank piece of paper without some hope that there is something else out there somewhere.
6. Can you talk a little bit about your year in NYC?
I may live in San Francisco, but I left my heart in New York City. And I’ll be damned if I can explain what happened while living there last year––is there something in the water? All I know is that after many years of painting in the Bay Area, making paintings which all seemed to be done by the same hand, the work I did in New York exploded in three or four directions, an exhilarating if bewildering event for me. It wasn’t the proximity of the million galleries––frankly, I didn’t see much in the galleries that I liked. And it wasn’t the influence of all the artists we met––my wife and I are pretty much loners and we only met a handful of artists. But something happened there and now that we’ve returned to San Francisco, it’s become my job to try to understand that, and to discover anew what to do, how to paint, and why. I’ve just hit my 70th birthday (or did it hit me?) and I find myself a beginner again. I consider that New York’s fault, and I’m truly grateful for that.