Painting Self as Link to Masters


Just about the last thing most people would expect to find in a high-rise building that is home to a variety of real estate agents, lawyers and accountants (not to mention the Westchester Youth Soccer League) is an artist’s studio.
But on a recent Tuesday morning, with an expanse of the snow-covered city visible below, Peri Schwartz was preparing her 10th floor studio in an office building on North Avenue here for what she said she hopes will be an onslaught of visitors. For the first time in her 25-year career as a painter, Ms. Schwartz is inviting the public to come to the studio to view her work.
She will have an open studio today from 2 to 5 p.m. at 271 North Avenue, No. 1020. For more information, call 633-7691.
Surrounded by her most recent series of self-portraits, some of which are boldly confrontational, Ms. Schwartz talked about what it is like to be an artist in the 21st century with an undying devotion to the old masters.

Q. It is unusual for an artist to have her studio in an office building. Why did you choose this space for your studio?

A. One of the things that has always been important to me is that I’m really alone when I’m painting. They make jokes in my family that “nobody’s allowed to call Peri in her studio.” When I was looking for space, I did look at some of the community spaces that have been provided for artists.  I realized I wouldn’t be happy in that situation. I just didn’t want someone coming by asking to borrow linseed oil or asking what I thought of their paintings. I didn’t want to think about anyone’s work but my own.

Q. You mentioned that you’ve been teaching painting and drawing for 15 years but as a general rule you don’t invite your students to come to your studio. Why?

A. To just have people come in and “ooh and ah” and say, ‘Oh, what a nice space.” That’s not what you want. You want someone teaching you something, providing you with insights. In general, I didn’t want 10 people to come in and look at the work.  I didn’t feel I needed that kind of gratification.

Q. If you suddenly became wildly successful as a painter, would you continue to teach?

A. I think if I became super well-known I would continue to teach, but I would teach in a situation where I might teach a more advanced student body. A great analogy for teaching is exercise. You have to drag yourself there, but when you leave you're really glad you did it. Teaching does force me to grow artistically, but sometimes I'm lazy, and I would rather be painting all the time.

Q. What space do you prefer?

A. I went to visit one of my old teachers. He was on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. His space, I could die for the space. He had windows where you saw the whole city. There's something about looking out to a big area that's very appealing to me, even though when I work I close the binds.

Q. What initially attracted you to painting self-portraits?

A. It was the easiest way for me to connect with the masters. Rembrandt’s self-portraits are just the most incredible things in the world, and I love those paintings desperately. I’m connecting with him by doing a self-portrait. Centuries go by, and I’m still looking at myself and trying to see myself in some world that relates to him.

Q. Do you think you will be recognized as a great artist during your lifetime?

A. The kind of artist I am is sort of an endangered species. This kind of art is not very popular. I wouldn't fit into the 'Sensation' show at the Brooklyn Museum or the show at the Whitney. I have a kind of religious belief in what I'm doing. I hope that I will be recognized, but in a sort of underground way. By an underground world of people that care about painting in the traditional way of caring about painting.