FRED PRICE SCHWEINFURTH ART TALK

I was one of several artists who had the opportunity to give a 10 minuet talk on our art, some of which was on display. We were asked to talk on background, interests and inspiration. At the the Schweinfurt Art Center in Auburn NY.

FRED PRICE SCHWEINFURTH ART TALK We were asked to talk about our art and our backgrounds. I was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio at a time when it was a major steel producing area. I went into the peacetime army after high school.In 1959 as a 22 year old honorably discharged ex GI I was in New York City. It was jazz music that pulled me there.

Knowing almost nothing I lucked into a job in a commercial one man photography studio. Dave Sussman hired me as assistant, Darkroom man and gofer. I stayed 7 years. I had access to the darkroom and studio when ever it was unused. Dave was my mentor. He could do anything in photography but make a good living. I learned professional techniques and standards.

In that same building I met and was enticed to work as a darkroom guy for the artist Ralston Crawford. He was pretty famous in the 30’w and 40’s but was out of fashion in the fifties and after. Ralston was primarily a painter of oils. But he was also a film maker and lithographer and a still photographer. He became another mentor. I stayed with him almost a decade. From him I learned how to see.

Already working professionally I decided that I was only interested in the art of picture making. Ralston said ‘Look at everything. Whats good will stay with you.’ I went looking. There was not enough photography to look at in the early 60’s in New York City. I expanded my looking to any kind of print and all works on paper. From small real galleries on the upper east side to vanity galleries in Soho to 57th street where Rembrandt’s could be seen and bought to laundromat walls with three or four ‘art photos’ on them and to museums.

Beautiful black and white prints by the old masters of photography enchanted me. I became and remain a print maker. The physical photograph always gets my attention. The color and surface of the paper matter to me. For the first 25 or 30 years I did almost only black and white silver prints. I am now and have been learning color. I was not much interested in C prints but I like digital printing.

During prohibition and afterwards many artists drank. Peggy Crawford said ‘We all drank’. I don’t know when it started but by the late 50’s a lot of artists smoked pot. With my pals we would get high and while listening to jazz records we looked at art books,photography books and annuals. And ate pizza and drank beer.

The print became my major interest. Accumulating professional equipment in the striving for excellent results. Searching papers and developers and mat boards and making window mats and all that. I made a portfolio of a dozen or so prints that, following Ralston’s advice, I could not make better. Ralston said that you are showing to see if they can use your picture on not. You are not there for their approval.

Mostly I was ignored but every once in a while I would get a small show or get something published. Like most of my peers I seldom sold anything but we would sometimes trade.

Because I looked at a lot of pictures I have a lot of visual interests. I have portfolios of landscapes, portraits, still lifes reflections, jazz players, street scenes and so on. We make pictures to achieve feeling of satisfaction and pleasure. Those feelings can be had with any subject matter….if things go well.

It has been said that you’re not a real artist until you’ve had a picture printed upside down and had one stolen. I never had one printed upside down but I had one printed on it’s side.

We were also asked about our interests. Looking is my primary interest. I am imprinted with 20th century industrial shapes. Steel mills, rail yards, smoke stacks, box cars, I beams and so on. Brick yards and lumber yards and junk yards.

Grand pa had a farm where we spent time in the summer. Nature had an impact too.

I like things made by hand and the people who make them. I am attracted by those who grow and make food. I like reading and writers. I like faces and bodies and those who use them, actors, dancers and athletes. Music and musicians mean a lot to me. And picture makers. I like old friends and new friends and strangers. I like to travel both near and far and I like staying home. They all have their rewards. I also like jokes and jokers.

We were asked about inspiration. I don’t know where it comes from. I have never had a dry spell or lacked for ideas.

There are more things to do than time to do them.

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON EVALUATING ART

 

LEARNING ABOUT PICTURES

When I became serious about photography I became kind of methodical about looking at pictures. New York in the sixties was a pretty barren place to look at photographs. There were the museums and a few galleries, some of them vanity galleries. I would go to laundromats if there were photographs on the walls.

This went on for many years. I remember walking down the street with Hiroshi Sugimoto and we came to a store with very large portraits of pretty women on the wall. We went in and looked closely at the pictures and then Hiroshi asked the woman at the counter “What kind of place is this?” She said it was a hair salon. Sure took us by surprise.

The sixties was a time of many used book stores and I would buy books and magazines with pictures. Color picture books were uncommon and if you found them they could be expensive, not very accurate color and usually not what I really wanted. More books on National Parks than on the painters I liked.

Gradually I started to look at other kinds of prints, lithographs, etchings and Japanese woodblock prints. Then I started to include works on paper too.

Of course somethings I liked better than others. I remember wonderful black and with images on paper by Picasso, etchings or lithographs I think. Beautifully matted and framed in a gallery that I remember nothing about except it was on 57th street. A very expensive place for a gallery.

Some beautiful prints by the master, W. Eugene Smith in Museums. Any Ansel Adams was worth looking at for the print quality. It must be kept in mind that he didn’t make the papers or films. It was with the same stuff you could find at the photo store.

Wonderful Rembrandt etchings in another 57th street gallery crowded with people I had never seen at any other gallery. Fur clad little old ladies packing the joint.

Japanese woodblock prints of wide ranging quality. I saw one show at the Explorers Club! Sometimes the prints were in awful condition, one of the colors would have completely disappeared or damaged in some way. But they were the right (famous) artist and so were on display.

All of that looking was good for me. I had no idea of copying anything I saw. In the beginning I could not have copied any of the masters. But I got some idea of how compositions were made.

What made me think of this journey into my past was something I read by the very fine pastry chef Shuna Lydon, on learning the pastry trade.

“Go to every fine dining place that have pastry chefs and teams. eat those people’s desserts. Every day you should be going out. if you can’t afford dinner, call ahead and see if you can get desserts at the bar. THIS is your research.”

I thought that is advice I would give to picture makers. Look. I have met young photographers who could only look at a specific area like fashion and not be able to appreciate the craft involved in other photographic endeavors. The work showed that narrowness.

ACTING

ACTING

Maybe sixty years ago or so while listening to the Long John Nebel all night radio show I heard an (no doubt) old actor say “Nobody is acting anymore. All they do is talk.” I got the impression he was from the silent movie days.

My mother-in-law lived with us and to make her life a little bit easier Chinese television was subscribed too. Another dish on the roof for that.

We still have that and it is on a lot for Faye to brush up her language skills while watching it.

Of course we see a lot of cooking shows. But we also watch programs we call soap operas.

On one of these one of the characters was a mute. She could hear but she could only communicate by sign language. All of her emotions were seen on her face. Surprise, suspicion, delight, sorrow, joy, disappointment, attentiveness and so on. She was fantastic, everybody else spoke,she acted.

The credits were all in Chinese and we don’t know any of the names of any of the actors and I now no longer remember the name of the show which also written in English and Chinese. There were subtitles that allowed us to follow the story.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_John_Nebel

BAYER

When I was in the army at Ft. Carson outside of Colorado springs I knew a fellow GI named Bayer. He was Italian. And because of his German last name I somehow had the idea that he might have been a war orphan. When I got out of the army after three years I was still twenty one years old. We were all young, unmarried and not very smart.

Bayer was the luckiest person I ever met. We got our meager pay at the end of every month and by that time none of us had any money.

We might have enough to take the bus to town and back and not being on base was worth doing that even if all we could do was nurse one beer.

Being short of bread Bayer would go about finding some. When we would walk down the street I would be on the sidewalk and he would be walking in the gutter. He almost always found some
money. Part of it was luck and part was technique.

He would walk around the hotels and bars and places where people would have gotten into or out of taxi’s, reasoning that that was where money might fall out of somebody’s pocket. So he would sometimes find paper money.

At one point a few of us got sent to Ft. Polk Louisiana for an extended time in the field, three months as I recall. A very extensive field maneuver with air force personnel included. By this time the military was racially integrated and those on this maneuver were sent to a remote part of the base to where the ‘colored’ troops would have been billeted. The barracks were World War II vintage and you could see the ground where the floorboard had separated.

Cattle were roaming the area and we tried to a cow up the barracks steps to put it in the sergeants room. But the cow was too strong and too smart for us.

During our time in the swamps I saw lean and very fast feral hogs running through the brush. Many of us got chiggers which a dictionary defines as a six-legged usually red or orange mite larva (family Trombiculidae) that feeds on skin cells and causes intensely itchy reddish welts; also :  the adult mite of this larva. The way they were gotten rid of was with the lit end of a cigarette causing the littler fucker to back out of your body and then giving it a good scolding. I had three of them on my
belly right above my pubic hair.

At the end of our wallowing around the bayous we got a long weekend pass with just a few dollars each, we did not yet get paid. The town nearest the post was the notorious Leesville Louisiana which consisted of bars and pawn shops. I don’t now remember if we had civilian clothes or not but we hitch hiked to the nearby metropolis of Lake Charles which had to have more happening that Leesville.

We found a place to stay, a private home with rooms to let. Since we had so little bread I spent my time browsing record and book stores. Bayer went to a bar.

He spent his time and money nursing beers and digging the scene. There was an older guy at a table drinking and with some women hanging around him every body having a good time. The man
left with some of the women and Bayer thinks, maybe it will be lucky if I sit at that table.

He’s down to his last two dollars when the waitress approaches. Bayer spots something green on the floor and quietly stamps his foot over the green and orders another beer. When the waitress turns and leavers Bayer is under the table and grabs the green. He knows it is money. He puts the money on the table for the beer and discovers it is a twenty!

Keep in mind that the base pay of a brand new GI is $78 a month. So a twenty dollar bill was an astonishing windfall.