Bob Schwartz

Category: Art

The Art of Eva Roberts

Later When Stars Opened

The paintings of Eva Roberts are now being shown on the Saatchi Art website. Some are there already, and more are reportedly on the way.

Others have written insightfully about this extraordinary art (Peter Frank: “Roberts’ practice harks back before abstract expressionism to the abstract painting of a century ago, a painting driven by and infused with spiritual and metaphorical content….The soul of Eva Roberts’ paintings, then, is a twinned unity, proffering the yin of pure form and the yang of the recognizable.”).

The best way to begin experiencing these paintings is not to read about them but to visit and look. Look and look again.

Four Freedoms Passover

Four Freedoms - Norman Rockwell

Passover is coming. The first seder meal will be held on the evening of Friday, April 22. Even for non-observant Jews, this holiday is frequently a time for participation. One estimate says that 80% of Jews attend some sort of seder.

This year I suggest we go way back for a Passover theme. Back to FDR’s Four Freedoms from 1941.

The overall order of the seder (“seder” actually means order) has been standardized for centuries—the blessings, the rituals, the symbolic food and drink, the songs, and most of all, the recitation of the events of the exodus from Egypt. But the text and the form and the meaning have been subject to remixing, some of it pretty adventurous.

In the modern era, the freedom embedded in Passover has been extended to all sorts of concerns. During the time of the civil rights movement, the obvious connection was made between ancient and modern oppression, and the struggle to end that oppression.

In 1969 Rabbi Arthur Waskow created a Freedom Seder, making this connection more direct. He explains:

One of my earliest and warmest memories is that of my father reciting the Dayenu, the chant of rebellion, liberation, travail, and the creation of a new law that is the story of Passover. One of my latest and warmest memories is that of working with my wife and children to make of our own Passover Seder something that would speak to our deep concerns about our selves and our world.

Our efforts became sharper and more urgent in 1968, when the Passover came one bare week after the murder of Martin Luther King, the April uprising of black Washington against the blank-eyed pyramid-builders of our own time, and the military occupation of our city. Who in
those days could forget that the prophet King had remembered Moses?– had spoken of how he had been to the mountain-top, had seen the promised land, but might never enter. … And then we realized that in 1969, the third night of Passover, April 4, would be the first anniversary of King’s death.

Since then, Passover has become the platform for seders centered around all kinds of affliction, oppression, aspiration and freedom. Women. LGBT. Poverty. Peace. The Earth. And so on.

One example of this concerns a new tradition that is widely practiced. The seder plate contains a number of foods symbolizing the story of the Egyptian captivity and the fight for freedom. Susannah Heschel conceived of one more thing to add:

So how was it that the orange found its place on the seder plate as a Passover symbol of feminism and women’s rights?

Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel and a scholar in her own right, says that at the height of the Jewish feminist movement of the 1980s, she was inspired by the abundant new customs expressing women’s viewpoints and experiences and started placing an orange on the seder plate.

At an early point in the seder, she asked each person to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community. She encouraged each guest to spit out the seeds in their orange segment to reject homophobia and hatred. The orange suggests the fruitfulness for all Jews when everyone in our community is a contributing and active member of Jewish life. (From The Wandering Is Over Haggadah,

On January 6, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered an historic State of the Union Address. The world was increasingly gripped by brutal tyranny. On top of that, America was still recovering from the effects of the Great Depression. And it seemed almost impossible for the U.S. to stay out of the global fight for freedom.

In the address, FDR summarized what freedom meant—and why we would fight for it, here and abroad. That statement became known as the Four Freedoms–Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Some will point out the hypocrisies and ironies of the statement. At that point in American history, millions were not free and were under attack because of their race, religion, and economic circumstances. Maybe the biggest irony of all is that the final call for disarmament and the final phrase “crash of a bomb” ultimately faced the reality of a horrific war and an unthinkable bomb to end it.

But as a goal and aspiration, the Four Freedoms still ring out. Maybe we can ring them this Passover.

The posters above are by Norman Rockwell. Maybe more famous than FDR’s speech are the propaganda posters that Rockwell painted based on the Four Freedoms. As with the speech, some complain that Rockwell’s America was over-idealized and far too white. Probably so, and the images themselves may look quaint and, from today’s perspective, backward looking.

To counter that, following are a couple of works from Ben Shahn, an illustrator who was contemporary with Rockwell, artistically his equal, culturally his opposite:

Ben Shahn was born in Kovno, Russia on September 12, 1898 to Joshua Hessel and Gittel (Lieberman) Shahn and died on March 14, 1969. A Jewish-born artist, muralist, social activist, photographer and teacher, he is best known for his works of Social realism…From May to June of 1933, Shahn served as an assistant to Diego Rivera while the artist executed the infamous Rockefeller Center mural. By circulating a petition among the workers to keep the mural on display, Shahn played an important role in fanning the controversy.

Among his many famous works, in 1930 Shahn created a series of watercolor drawings for a Passover Haggadah. In 1965 these drawings were incorporated into a complete haggadah. Here, in an illustration called The Bread of Affliction, the hand of God leads the people out Egypt:

Bread of Affliction 2 - Ben Shahn

And here is a bit of Shahn’s later work, part of a series of union posters urging people to register and vote:

M25958-1 001
Happy Passover! Let freedom ring!

Celestial Gallery

Celestial Gallery 2

See correction below.

Celestial Gallery is simply the most astonishing visual book I own.

Words are not even close, but here is the publisher’s description:

Boldly reinterpreting the age-old Tibetan and Nepalese art form known as Thangka, Celestial Gallery offers beautifully detailed representations of mandalas, or celestial spheres. Simply gazing upon the mandalas is meant to inspire in the viewer a heightened state of intention and clarity. Master painter Romio Shrestha and his team of artisan monks have created postmodern versions of these enlightened Buddha realms from hand-ground malachite, lapis, marigolds, and other rare substances. Painted at times with a mere three hairs from the tail of a cat, these multifaceted scenes of otherworldly deities are rich with hauntingly powerful detail. Depictions of White Tara, Green Tara, the Medicine Buddha, and many other celestial beings invite and inspire meditation and reflection.

Really, those words are not even close.

Celestial Gallery 1

Two things about the book:

1. It is big, 24 in. x 18 in. So you will be looking at it on a table or on the floor.

Correction: No. The edition I own is the magnificent size mentioned. The edition linked to in the post is a shelf-sized version that is still big and beautiful, just not that big. Still way worth the price.

2. It costs less than $20 on Amazon. So take out a $20 bill, if you are fortunate enough to have one to spare. Stare at the picture of Andrew Jackson for a while. Turn it over and stare at the picture of the White House for a while. Then look at the tiny pictures from the book in this post. Then think of them really big and bright and beautiful. Then buy the book.

A Visual Vacation in Fun and Relevant History: WPA Posters

WPA - Shall the Artist Survive

In case you think that government has no positive role to play in our lives, society or culture, especially in times of national stress, please have a look at the WPA posters from 1936 to 1943.

The Library of Congress has the largest collection:

The Work Projects Administration (WPA) Poster Collection consists of 907 posters produced from 1936 to 1943 by various branches of the WPA. Of the 2,000 WPA posters known to exist, the Library of Congress’s collection of more than 900 is the largest. The posters were designed to publicize exhibits, community activities, theatrical productions, and health and educational programs in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, with the strongest representation from California, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The results of one of the first U.S. Government programs to support the arts, the posters were added to the Library’s holdings in the 1940s.

Here is a description of the WPA:

Of all of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) is the most famous, because it affected so many people’s lives. Roosevelt’s vision of a work-relief program employed more than 8.5 million people. For an average salary of $41.57 a month, WPA employees built bridges, roads, public buildings, public parks and airports.

Under the direction of Harry Hopkins, an enthusiastic ex-social worker who had come from modest means, the WPA would spend more than $11 million in employment relief before it was canceled in 1943. The work relief program was more expensive than direct relief payments, but worth the added cost, Hopkins believed. “Give a man a dole,” he observed, “and you save his body and destroy his spirit. Give him a job and you save both body and spirit”….

When federal support of artists was questioned, Hopkins answered, “Hell! They’ve got to eat just like other people.” The WPA supported tens of thousands of artists, by funding creation of 2,566 murals and 17,744 pieces of sculpture that decorate public buildings nationwide. The federal art, theater, music, and writing programs, while not changing American culture as much as their adherents had hoped, did bring more art to more Americans than ever before or since.

It would be lovely to include dozens of the posters here. Instead, here are just a few more. Please visit and enjoy the entire collection.

WPA - Yellowstone

WPA - Mural Studies

WPA - Letter Writing

WPA - Music Project

WPA - Lack of Funds

Shepard Fairey: The Art of Political Revolution

Shepard Fairey - Bernie Sanders Concert

Not many people had heard of the artist Shepard Fairey (“Manufacturing Quality Dissent Since 1989”) until he created the Obama “Hope” poster, one of the most famous pieces of art in modern American politics.

Since then, he has been spending his time creating, exhibiting and selling all sorts of provocative and eminently viewable art/propaganda on the beneficial edge of society, politics and culture.

He created the poster above for today’s Bernie Sanders benefit concert in Los Angeles. For those who haven’t looked for a while, or don’t know Shepard’s work, here is a sampling:

End Corruption

Make Art Not War




iTunes Graphic Novel

Masterful comic artist R. Sikoryak has created one of the most unique works ever. Ever. ITUNES TERMS AND CONDITIONS: The Graphic Novel.

Sikoryak is known for his ability to faithfully reproduce the style and characters of many famous comic book and graphic novel creators. What he has now done is take the entire long, dense and absurdly legalistic mandatory iTunes Terms and Conditions and made it the text of a graphic novel. One new page a day is being released on Tumblr.

Each page is done in a different style (from Chester Gould (Dick Tracy) to Herge (Tintin) to Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey) to Charles Schulz (Peanuts) to Dan DeCarlo (Archie) to Todd McFarlane (Spawn) to Scott Adams (Dilbert) and on and on). The featured “hero” of each page is, naturally, Steve Jobs.

iTunes Graphic Novel - Heck and Romita

You can read an interview with Sikoryak in The New Yorker.

It is an astonishingly simple idea to the point of genius. All it takes to turn the ridiculous (such as the iTunes T&C) into the sublime is artistic vision and talent. Thanks to Sikoryak for gifting us with his.

Mad Men: This Is the Way the World Ends

The Real Thing

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot
The Hollow Men

Readers and viewers know whether they like or are satisfied with the way a novel or movie ends. But they may not recognize the burden of creating those endings, not just to short forms, but to sagas and epics, where possibilities are exponential, and where those dutifully following the tale and trail may be looking for those elusive treasures: resolution and meaning.

It is not surprising that the final episode of Mad Men was written and directed by the show’s creator Matthew Weiner. How could it have been otherwise?

Mad Men is a work of literature disguised as a television show. There are a number of hallmarks of literature and art, including the engagement of those who see and hear. But maybe even above that is coherence, holding together as a work, from one corner of the canvas to another, from the first to last note of the symphony.

Mad Men doesn’t fit it into any particular artistic category: impressionistic or expressionistic, realistic or fantastic, Freudian or Jungian. If anything, it delves into magical realism, where ghosts are real and real people are ghosts and anything can happen and make sense.

Or not make sense. The story of Mad Men in essence begins with the death of the original Don Draper in Korea. Over time, others die, couples come together and apart, people have sex, families are raised, business are started and bought and sold, jobs are lost and found, money is made and spent, some are miserable while others are happy, some grow and all just grow older.

All of it makes just enough sense to be a story. None of it makes enough sense to defy reality, gravity, or time. What more could you ask for? Meaning? What more were you expecting? It’s just the real thing.


Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory

Driving down a country road, a man sees a farmer. The farmer is holding up a pig so that the pig can eat apples from a tree. The man stops and says to the farmer, “You know, that’s not very efficient. If you put the pig down, shook the tree and let the apples fall to the ground, it would save a lot of time.” The farmer says, “You may be right, but what’s time to a pig?”

The result of our thinginess is our blindness to all reality that fails to identify itself as a thing, as a matter of fact. This is obvious in our understanding of time, which, being thingless and insubstantial, appears to us as if it had no reality.

Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face. Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives. Shrinking, therefore, from facing time, we escape for shelter to things of space. The intentions we are unable to carry out we deposit in space; possessions become the symbols of our repressions, jubilees of frustrations. But things of space are not fireproof; they only add fuel to the flames. Is the joy of possession an antidote to the terror of time which grows to be a dread of inevitable death? Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives; we are more harassed than supported by the Frankensteins of spatial things.

It is impossible for man to shirk the problem of time. The more we think the more we realize: we cannot conquer time through space. We can only master time in time.

Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Sabbath

At the time the mountains were climbed and the rivers were crossed, you were present. Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

As time is not marked by coming and going, the moment you climbed the mountains is the time being right now. If time keeps coming and going, you are the time being right now. This is the meaning of the time being.

Does this time being not swallow up the moment when you climbed the mountains and the moment when you resided in the jeweled palace and vermilion tower? Does it not spit them out?

Zen Master Dogen
The Time-Being
The Essential Dogen

Art: Chris Roberts-Antieau


There’s a lot of art in the world. A lot in New Orleans. A lot on Royal Street in New Orleans. But nothing in the world, in New Orleans, or on Royal Street, like the art of Chris Roberts-Antieau.


Having just discovered her work, I would say much more. But instead I’ll just say that she works in fabric. That she does what artists should do: delight you, inspire you, deliver the combination of joy and thoughtfulness that can be mistaken for mere craft or whimsy but is nothing less than art.


Only a few examples are shown here, but just visit the website of the Antieau Gallery. Visit the gallery on Royal Street in New Orleans (as if you need an excuse to visit New Orleans). See her work at various museums or at the homes of folks such as Oprah Winfrey or Bill Clinton, if you happen to be visiting them. You will be delighted you did.


Random Beads

Random Beads - Bob Schwartz

Every picture supposedly tells a story. Actually, every picture is a story.

Beading is a glorious craft. In the hands of a talented artist, the results can be beautiful and enlightening.

But like all art, it can be a messy business. In the case of beads, this can mean tiny items underfoot, and with bits of wire, pretty painful ones. Particularly where barefoot is the custom.

A quick post-beading cleanup led to quite a collection of such detritus, like shells on a beach. Tossed in a white bowl, they looked like something. And so the photo above.

If you are a fan of randomness—and we should all be—you will see in this totally spontaneous display any number of things. Gregory Bateson said, “I am going to build a church someday. It will have a holy of holies and a holy of holy of holies, and in that ultimate box will be a random number table.” Exactly.

Here is a beader in her natural habitat, the largest bead store in New York. It is filled with beads mostly from China which, as in most things, is able to provide whatever we want or need in seemingly infinite supply. So it is all together: geopolitics, economics, ancient tradition, minerals, pottery, glass, color, art, craft, and, of course, beauty. Note, however, that in this emporium, the beauty of the beader outshines all of the beads.

Bead Store