Friday, March 21, 2014

Harvey Schmidt: "[Series paintings have] always been the kind of thing I like to do the most."

Two exceptional series of illustrations bear closer examination before we take leave of Harvey Schmidt's career. The first was completed in early 1958 at the request of Life magazine. Schmidt was tapped to illustrate the true story of a woman with multiple split-personality disorder; the famous "Fourth Face of Eve."


Of this commission, Schmidt said, "This was an unusually interesting assignment for me. Even though the situations to be illustrated were presented by the editors, the main problem - to project the distorted and compulsive world of a woman who had lost contact with reality - was great."


He continued, "I saw the original films of the patient taken by her psychiatrist. They gave me an insight into the feelings of constricted gesture and sudden emotional shift which was essential to a visualization of Eve. Then, with the subjects of the drawings decided upon and some background material digested (plus much pondering of the whole theme in odd moments), I began to work on the actual illustrations."


"To create a sense of intimacy, of 'looking in' on Eve's life we planned the drawings as though seen from an angle slightly above... similar to the style of Japanese prints. The difficulties of foreshortening required a model. But after looking over a few cadaverous choices striking high fashion poses, I decided to enlist the help of a friend of mine, a dancer, who seemed to understand exactly what I wanted and could hold difficult poses without tiring."


"To increase the neurotic, tense feeling essential to the situations, I experimented with an angular, uneven line technique: as for example in the drawing of Eve - showing her compulsive 'fourth face' - pocketing a sweater in a department store."


Just a year or so later, we see Harvey Schmidt pushing his creative boundaries again - this time for Esquire and with a dramatically different type of subject matter. Robert Benton, Schmidt's long-time friend and art director of Esquire magazine, offered the artist a football story to illustrate.


Benton was expecting a sketch or perhaps a grease pencil and tempera painting... instead, Schmidt arrived at Benton's office with seven finished oil paintings. Additional space was made available and four of the seven ended up being published in conjunction with the article.


Schmidt said this about series work: "My goal is for the finished picture to stand alone as an individual painting but at the same time to complement the other paintings in the group. That type of reporting, with paintings on a single subject, has always been the kind of thing I like to do the most. It has much more appeal to me than doing isolated easel paintings."


"I also like the challenge of covering a subject that I myself did not select. There is no subject too big or too little, I believe, to be covered in this way."


(At the time of their publication, a possible gallery show of Schmidt's football series was being discussed.)

* Art and information for this week's posts came from Esquire and American Artist magazines, the 1950s NYAD Annuals, personal collections and recollections.

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