On an average day, New York City’s streets are filled with thousands of people moving at a rapid pace, so it’s exceptional that New York based artist Sheila Schwid’s paintings capture and commemorate these fluctuating moments in time to reflect on the contemplative and personal events that are often overlooked.
That is the crux of her recent series of paintings that are the result of snapshots taken by the artist while attentively riding along 14th Street by bus. Sheila explains “I take photos thru the window on the 14th Street bus. For some reason, that street has many reflections. At first I was interested in the buildings and the the windows, and how they reflected. However, as I got into it I realized that I really care about the people. They are so strong. They just keep going.”
Schwid’s paintings reflect a humanist relationship of the city’s inhabitants to their surroundings. She has given unique and personal stories to her subjects, giving them humanity and renewed purpose, even if they might otherwise be carrying on mundane tasks. Her titles reflect an introspective philosophy that questions the meaning of life and the purpose of the human condition. The contemporary city landscape is daunting. It is cramped, rushed, aggressive, and it bogs down the human spirit. Schwid’s figures are bombarded by many different facets including the forces of advertising, lies, sirens, loud radios, traffic noises, bright lights, signs in the windows, and each other. It is their perseverance to go on that fascinates Schwid.
The paintings pose deeper philosophical questions, such as in Five (2015), where a reflection of a store sign (Five Guys Burgers) reflects onto the lapel of a women on the bus. In an age where technology and corporations reign, are we all being numbered and identified by statistics? In Sisters of Macy’s I (2013) two “red-headed angels” are drawn into the department store’s temptations. The mannequin is quietly aggressive and draws them into lustful yearning. There are two other paintings in this series, in the third one, a woman has let go of herself and is momentarily engulfed by the storefront’s reflections. Consumerism is the new religion and these are the fallen angels of the 21st century. While her other paintings portray more of a realist style, the “Sisters of Macy’s” paintings have brilliant colorful pallets and their mythological forms are somewhat reminiscent of Bob Thompson’s idyllic scenes (Thompson was a good friend of Sheila’s).
In other paintings, Schwid’s hope for the human race comes through strong. Marching Ever Forward Calling Obstacles Their Friends (2014) suggests the thick skin of New Yorker’s and human beings at large to overcome life’s burdens and embrace challenge.
Sheila Schwid was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1932 and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska where she met the painter Jay Milder. Schwid and Milder moved to New York City during the 1950s when the downtown avant-garde scene was blossoming. The two artists collaborated with Red Grooms in his “Happenings,” and Sheila exhibited her paintings in some of the renowned 10th Street galleries. Since 1970, she has been an active member of the artist’s community at Westbeth, on Bethune Street. She has taught art, painting and animation in public schools and universities. Schwid is currently represented by the Carter Burden Gallery in Manhattan.
Sheila Schwid Reflections on 14th Street will be on view through March 9, 2016 at El Taller Latino‘s Grady Alexis Gallery, 215 West 99th Street, Lower Level, NYC.