Forthcoming in the next issue of Proximity

April 18, 2009

posted & written by Caroline Picard

I had the good fortune to contribute to the next issue of Proximity Magazine and thought to post the beginning of that article here….

The Painter as A Free Man



I first met Robert Schechter last spring in New York. As is often the case, Spring came to Manhattan a month before Chicago, and I’d managed to steal away for a couple of days to visit my brother. I was excited to smell the fresh thaw of wet earth. David, a friend and New York resident, suggested I come and see a studio on Sunday afternoon. He thought I might enjoy it.


“There is someone I want you to meet,” David said. “He’s an artist too. And his studio is incredible.”


I’m all too familiar with the common studio-struggle. I receive e-mails about once a month from artists living and working in New York who are suddenly seeking a new studiomate. These e-mails are generally accompanied by photographs of what look like basements and contain a variety of addresses moving farther and farther away from the city, whether in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, or even that as-of-yet uncharted territory, Staten Island.


Schechter’s studio was unlike any of these basements. In some sense, his is the quintessential artist’s studio, just as the quintessential artist archetype is still the modernist painter: these ideas of art making and living seem impossible to inhabit from our contemporary vantage. Perhaps because they have already been exploited, a painter these days suffers the pangs of self-awareness, unable to paint with abstract abandon about feelings without first justifying him or herself in the context of an historical cannon. Similarly, most bastions of sunlit-lower-east-side studio life have been redone and resold as sardine-sized apartments for thousands of dollars a month.


Befitting the style of his work, Schechter has such a studio. It wields nostalgic perfection, perfect perhaps because it is used practically. It is not a museum, but a living, breathing space of ideas and artistic license. Schechter works in a three-story walk-up in Greenwich Village. Until recently he worked in two rooms, one he used to store work—countless large paintings on stretchers and a flat file containing an extensive collection of monoprints. The second room he used for working, and thus, with the exception of a kitchenette in the back and a few tables with paints, turpentine, and oils, the room was empty. Both were well lit by smallish windows that faced a bustling street. When his landlord doubled the rent in 2007, Schecter gave up the storage room. I nevertheless mention it because this storage room will reveal bold evidence regarding The Freedom of Robert Schechter.

Schechter himself is a charming man. Born February 7, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York, he is tall, with a head of whitening hair that belies an artistic career. Along with hazel eyes and a wry smile, he possesses one of those pleasant voices that has had time to marinate in Manhattan. He wields a gentle authority in what he says. He speaks as one who has had space and time to reflect on the trajectory of his life.

Like many artists, Schechter has an interesting story. He began working as a draftsman in his early twenties. It was his first job out of college, and they sent him to work at a steel factory in Pennsylvania. After a car accident “before they had seatbelts in cars,” he was a passenger and went straight through the dashboard window. “They thought I was done for,” he says, “and I wasn’t, but it was a couple of years in the hospital.” During that time of rehabilitation he began reading Russian literature and, in his words, “that’s when I started being an artist. It was all based on the fact that there I was, I could have been killed.”

To read the rest of this article, check out Proximity!


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