Man of the Earth
Jeff Schwarz is a man who is forever looking for new ways to find fulfillment through his work.His in-depth appreciation for the natural landscape and his environment are the pulse that give this unique sculpture/ceramic artist the edge to produce such divinity work. He had his first epiphany about 11 years ago, It would lead him to spark a passion and lifelong journey for the ceramics.
His work is most impressionable! It has depth, meaning, and pleasant on the viewer’s eye. He has a historical portfolio of achievements, awards, exhibitions and as a respected Adjunct Professor at the Community College of Allegheny County, Western Pennsylvania, teaching Ceramics.
Revolution had the privilege of meeting and witnessing this great Ceramics Artist at work in his home studio. I interviewed Jeff and wanted to know what he was mixing up in the bowl.
R. What are you working on now?
JS. In my personal studio, I'm coming to work on the narrative portraiture that I have been working on for the past couple of years and filling commission work. Lucky for me each piece has led to the next, not just in content but also with surface and pattern exploration. In addition to my studio work, I am working on ceramic water filters at the Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, PA. The ceramic water filter is low-tech solution to some of the world's worst water problems.
R. In your most outstanding work of torsos, what led to that collection and what inspired you to produce such unique pieces?
JS. The origin for this body of work came from growing up in a rural area north of Pittsburgh. Growing up in the country influenced my sense of duality and intellectual curiosity. Specific to this body of work is that of my environment's fascination with white tailed deer. These animals for the most of the year are observed during the day by enticing them to backyards with corn feeders and/or salt blocks at night, "spotted" from cars with powerful lights. Their beauty and power are admired, as this was my recollection as a small boy. During rifle hunting season these same admirers arm themselves to kill the thing once observed. That fascinated me, one moment something could be admired for it's beauty and strength and then be vulnerable. The use of the antlers in my work directly references that dichotomy of strength and weakness/vulnerability.
R. Most of your inspiration comes from growing up in a rural environment, have you considered channeling those inspirations to a more urban environment?
JS. Increasingly I have been influenced by fashion design and clothing construction. I'm not sure if that is an urban inspiration or not but I seem to associate fashion with urban centers. The start of this interest happened about tow years ago when a friend emailed me a couple of images of people from the Omo River Valley in Ethiopia. What a wonderful gift. The images were a springboard for surface and pattern design as it applies to the figure and the tie to surface and pattern design in contemporary fashion. I am embarrassed to say that I didn't draw parallels between traditional body decoration and fashion design before. Inspired by the images, I bought the book Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa and was blown away by the designs painted directly onto the body and the natural accoutrements that accompanied their painted bodies. The thing I liked about the images in the book was that I didn't really pay attention to the specific people but instead was enamored by the body decoration and how the decoration harmoniously fit the natural environment. A light bulb exploded above my head, duh inspiration of fashion designers comes from things like this.
R. How do you inspire your students?
JS. I try to live by example. I feel that my role as a teacher is to be a facilitator and provocateur of ideas and opportunities. I love those moments in teaching when my students have that ah, ha moment from a class discussion or from a project. Those moments aren't something any teacher can teach, those moments just happen as they do in my own studio. As a teacher all I can do is push my students to think beyond their known boundaries, encourage them to make tons of work, take risks in their work and look at many different kinds of art.
R. When your in the studio, what music do you listen to?
JS. Currently early soul and lots of blues like Son House.
R. We live in a world that is surrounded by objects and architectural sculptures that sit in our environment. How important is it to society to have these objects that often go un-noticed?
JS. I have to admit that sometimes I have moments of neglect for sculpture in our environment. As adults, it's easy to take granted those structures in our environment as we walk to work or run our errands. Recently, I had a nice reminder of how important these sculptures/structures are in our world. I took my five-year old niece to the Carnegie Museum and because of her excitement and fascination with everything she saw, she brought me into her world. It was cool to experience the museum that way again and see how the museum's collection sparked her excitement.
Last but not least...
R. If you were a sculpture in New York City what would you be? And who would be the master behind it?
JS. Tough question, but I guess in light of the previous question I suppose I would be a HUGE dinosaur sculpture made of Play-Doh. The masters would be any kid in New York City who wanted to have fun playing with Play-Doh.
Sculpture, Ceramic Artist, Installation Artist.