Born Union, NJ, 1957 / BFA, Philadelphia College of Art; MFA, California Institute of the Arts / Lives in Detroit
To animate is to create the illusion of movement. To bend and release a flip book, and watch the images flicker to life one page at a time, is to distill the essence of something that has fascinated Gary Schwartz since childhood. Hand drawn animation, flip books, mutoscopes, camera obscuras, zoetropes, and (especially) stop motion animation, he is endlessly captivated by any non-digital process that can be used to quickly create animated works – and he is never slow to tell you his definition of “quick,” which is to “create faster than I can think.” Schwartz is a perpetually moving whirlwind of creativity, who edits as he goes, uploads everything to his voluminous YouTube channel, and never revisits old projects.
Schwartz can create so spontaneously because his application of the fundamental building blocks of animation has become habitual. His works often explore a subject by focusing on an iconic figure and have it travel through a terrain representing that subject. For example, the academy award nominated short film Animus (1982) uses the seminal Eadweard Muybridge stop-motion images of a naked walking man as a device to march relentlessly through the history of animation itself. A representative sequence begins with a clip of Edison’s historic Kinetoscope recording of a man sneezing, which morphs into a hand-animated version of that clip’s final frame, which is then squeezed (in a very Monty Python-esque manner) by the artist’s forefinger, before transforming into a handheld movie camera, and then a piece of paper, which in turn dissolves, allowing Muybridge’s walking man to re-emerge pacing the rooftop of the Philadelphia College of Art. A later example is HERE COME DA’ JUDGE (2007) in which a disorientated Judge Augustus Woodward strikes out from the intersection of Mack and Woodward using his own 1807 plan of Detroit’s intricately designed downtown. In turn he visits the Michigan Central Station, Belle Isle, Rosa Parks and Clairmount (on the exact 40th anniversary of the 1967 uprising that started there), and other Detroit locations, all while mumbling distractedly and incoherently.
There is an autobiographical component to much of Schwartz’s animation. The subtext of Animus is the story of Schwartz’s migration from the east to west coast, and he readily admits that Woodward’s confusion in HERE COME DA’ JUDGE mirrors his own culture shock at arriving in Detroit after several decades running his own animation company in Hollywood. Schwartz’s credits in LA include a (stop-motion) animated introduction to the television special Donald Duck’s 50th Birthday (1984), and the oft-played Sesame Street short Alphabet Jungle (1992). Both are obviously commercial projects, but still unmistakably display Schwartz’s offbeat sensibility. And if Schwartz was originally disoriented by the move from California, he now considers the transition from Hollywood’s ever-present commercialism to Detroit’s low-budget DIY culture to be a liberating experience that has allowed his work to become “sloppier, but far more meaningful.”
There is a deeply personal level to Schwartz’s continuing interest in walking. As he states in his artist’s statement for Phi – a Zoetrope created for the 2009 show Walking Distance – “Walking represents freedom, adventure, exploration and unknown possibilities ….. Always moving forward but never getting there. I occasionally lost the ability to walk. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in the mid ’70s. I continue to explore the inexhaustible question of walking. I haven’t got there yet.”
Schwartz’s collaborations over the years have been diverse, and his teaching undoubtedly generous and inspirational. He favors working in locations that are far from the art world mainstream, valuing the open-mindedness and creativity he discovers there. Some examples include the California Prison System, and the Detroit School of Art, where he worked with student animators, singers and musicians to create works based on lines from Shakespeare (such as the haunting Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (2008)). A particularly rewarding relationship has been with the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies in Armenia. In 2015 he collaborated with students in the cities of Yerevan and Dilijan to create Exquisite Dilivan, a frenetic, but fluid, meditation on Armenia’s metamorphosis from its former status as a member of the Soviet Union into a new national identity. He is currently preparing to return to work on MISHMASH, a “melange of cultural interactions” told through the appearance and sound of the Armenian alphabet. As he enters his seventh decade, Schwartz’s lifelong love affair with animation clearly remains undiminished, and his enthusiasm for involving others in his all-inclusive creative process continues to grow.
All of the above mentioned works can be viewed on Schwartz’s youtube channel – ztrawhcsg
Steve Panton, June 2017