Cedar Key artist: Chick Schwartz exhibit opens at Appleton

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By Mark Scohier

The early sun that beamed into Chick Schwartz’ studio seemed to wake things up.

Shadows danced across the front of a sculpted elephant and a wooden pig with salt shaker teats. A green patina glistened on the edges of a peacock cobbled together from the lids of cans and old 45s. Two figures, locked in embrace, appeared to speed across a shelf on a machine made from their own desire.

“His shoulder is her shirt,” the 75-year old Cedar Key artist says with a glint in his eye. “His hands are her hair … and there’s no motorcycle, but, still, you see instantly what it is.”

Schwartz doesn’t like to over-intellectualize his art.

“I really think it speaks to you, or it doesn’t.”

Many of his pieces force the viewer to see things that aren’t there because, well, they literally are not there. Only enough parts of the figures exist to suggest what Schwartz says people can fill in with “their own eye,” which, more than merely speaking to the viewer, seems to encourage a discussion between the two.

On Saturday, art enthusiasts will have a chance to participate in that discussion when “Chick Schwartz: Cedar Key Artist” opens at the Appleton Museum of Art, in Ocala. The exhibit runs until March 17 and will feature 45 of the artist’s sculptures and paintings.

“I’m too old to get excited,” Schwartz says about the show, explaining that he’s had somewhere between 50 and 60 exhibits throughout his career.

“An art gallery’s great, “says Marsha Schwartz, his wife and fellow artist of 49 years, “but a museum’s a big deal.” He’s had many gallery shows, she says, but only three museum exhibitions.

Ruth Grim, curator of exhibitions at the museum, says, “We’re just happy to bring him over here and showcase his work for the Ocala community.”

Schwartz is an established artist, she says, whose work is insightful, ironic and humorous. “You can’t go through a Chick exhibition without smiling,” adding that the artist is a rare type, easily transitioning through different mediums. “Most artists focus on one type. Chick has a lot of versatility.”

Schwartz, who resigned from a job as an engineer to take up art full time in the 70s, brings his three-dimensional imaginings to life through bronze, ceramics, wood and found objects. He said he made his name creating ceramic “Look Downs,” high relief ceramic pieces that hang on a wall. The pieces, which Schwartz made more than 300 of, create the sense of looking down from the roof of a building onto the streets below.

“On all of my work, there’s some kind of commentary on what’s going on,” Schwartz admits, pointing to one of the “Look Downs” he has displayed in his home. Closer inspection reveals tiny glazed figures having a party in the street, some playing Three Card Monty, others selling AK 47s.

Nowadays, Schwartz has moved away from making the “Look Downs,” choosing instead to focus on his bronzes, found object pieces and paintings. And he stays busy, working seven days a week from his 10-year home and studio in Cedar Key, despite claiming to be somewhat retired.

“He wakes up with these ideas and spends a lot time trying to figure out how to make them,” his wife says, staring at a large, irregular shaped seascape with smaller related paintings mounted at various distances in front of it, a sort of painting turned into sculpture.

Schwartz says the two spend their time doing whatever it is they see fit, “which is mostly poking fun” at themselves.

“I’ve been super lucky being able to make a living doing what I’m doing.”

See Schwartz’ work online at www.chickschwartz.com.