10 Questions for Ward Schumaker
- By Abby MacGregor
Tell us about one of the first pieces you created.
It's 1949, I'm six years old, lying on the floor, thumbing through Life Magazine and I find a photo story on Jackson Pollock. Immediately I realize: that's me, that's who I want to be! The next day our first grade teacher surprises us with easels and paint. I get to work. Still, a piece of art takes time. "Please don't make me go to recess," I plead. "I have to finish this painting. It's a lot more important than running around the playground."
What artist(s) or works have influenced the way you work now?
When I was twelve my brother introduced me to books by The Roycrofters, hand-illuminated letterpress books which we could buy for ten to twenty cents in used book stores. I didn't understand then that they were bad imitations of books created by William Morris's Kelmscott Press, nor did I know a broken-hearted Hubbard had died on the Titanic, returning from England after Morris had refused to meet with him. I just wanted to make something similar and these books became my guide.
What other professions have you worked in?
In my heart I'd always been an artist so that should have been it, but when I was 22 the governor of Nebraska (my home state) decided my work was pornographic and threatened me with prosecution. I quit painting, moved to California and became an unsuccessful paper salesman. Then an unsuccessful designer. Followed by thirty years as a mildly successful illustrator. At the age of 60, I gave up. I returned to painting.
What did you want to be when you were young?
Only one thing: an artist. Always an artist.
What inspired you to create these pieces?
The morning after Trump was elected president, I was scheduled for surgery. I've never been so happy to be anesthetized. But when I awoke I realized that, for the first time in my life, I felt compelled to turn my art towards a political direction. Hate Is What We Need was the result.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your art?
Growing up in the Middle West, I suffered nightmares that the continent would roll up like a croissant, and I'd be smothered in the middle. For me, survival has always required clinging to the coasts.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the artistic process?
As an illustrator, I passed through a number of musical periods: there was the Bach Era, the Kurt Weill Epoch, Years of late Janacek, and of course the Eon of Beethoven. But after I switched from illustration to fine art, I found I needed silence to concentrate. I could no longer tap my foot while I applied the paint.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to create?
Only one: no one must see my work before it's done, and no comments can be made, neither positive nor negative, not even by my wife (artist Vivienne Flesher, whose taste I hold in highest esteem). If anyone so much as peeks, I destroy the work––paint it out, tear it up, throw it into the trash.
Who typically gets the first look at your work?
The first person within my reach.
What are you working on currently?
In August, 2018, one year after creating the original hand-painted book, Hate Is What We Need, I finished a second volume. It's currently at the binder. I assumed I could then return to non-political artwork. Instead, I found myself creating a group of large hand-painted posters with quotations from the current news, this time featuring not just the words of Trump and his minions, but also those of his detractors and victims. In late October, I'll be showing them in San Francisco at the Jack Fischer Gallery; then in January/February 2019, at Nashville's Zeitgeist Gallery. But you can see both the new book and the posters online at wardschumaker.blogspot.com.
WARD SCHUMAKER is an artist known in particular for his hand-painted, one-of-a-kind books. An unintended and fortuitous viewing of one–– a collection of quotes from the mouth of Donald Trump––resulted in the publication of Hate Is What We Need, available from Chronicle Books and/or Amazon. Schumaker is represented by the Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco.