Peter Schwartzman was born in Moscow in 1947 shortly after which his father was transferred to Minsk, which had been decimated by war. Two of his vivid childhood memories included standing sadly at the window at the age of six after his mother had forbidden him to play outside…. and seeing his little friends blown up by a mine. Later, awe-struck, he watched an artist painting in the park and wanted to become just like him.
After the suffering and death in the USSR that followed the Second World War, people reacted by feeding their passion for beauty. The line-ups that formed were not only for bread but for music, art and books. Peter Schwartzman was lucky. At the age of 8, he was accepted into the visual arts studio of the Young Pioneer Palace.
“The head of this studio was Sergey Petrovich Kotkov, a good artist and brilliant teacher. No doubt I had some talent, but it was Kotkov who made an artist out of me. He respected each student’s individuality and taught us to remain true to ourselves. In that studio, I learned the some of the simplest and most important lessons in life, such as the fact that one should only work at what one loves.”
Schwartzman has undergone many transitions since those days: he lost his parents at early age, received his degree in architecture and had a successful career in that field; got married and immigrated to Canada with his wife and daughter.
He worked hard, searched, studied and worked again. Over time, Schwartzman realized that he could not stay wedded to the same genre of painting. Having finished one work, whether it had taken him six days or six months to complete, he tries something different and pursues that new idea as far as it takes him. This cycle repeats itself and continues to this day.
In Schwartzman’s early works, dating from late 1960’s, we find the main subject of his paintings to be Harlequins, who, with merry masks hiding their melancholic inner lives, have always attracted Peter by their paradoxical nature. The image of the Harlequin has captured better than anything else the contradictions of life in the Soviet Union, where one had to think twice before expressing ones private thoughts – whether verbally or artistically. Since his childhood, Schwartzman has been interested in the circus and in theatre, and has been inspired by the impressive theater-related paintings of Russian artists such as Bakst, Somov, Sudeikin, and Tyshler, as well as the Harlequins of the post-impressionists and early works of Picasso.
In his series of artworks called Mysterious Vessels, Schwartzman has depicted the beauty of ancient jars, vases, amphoras and other objects. He began the series in Russia after a lengthy voyage through Central Asia, where he began a collection of the marvelous ancient vessels of the region. For Schwartzman, these jars are not merely utilitarian objects, but rather a kind of sculpture which expresses the aesthetics of a particular people at a certain point in history. As art objects, these vessels have wonderful stories to tell, stories that he tried to convey to the viewer through his paintings. This series is continually growing, and artist hopes it will never be end.
Another series of Schwartzman’s paintings is called “A Tribute to the Ancient World”. In studying the history of art and architecture via his travels around the Mediterranean and the Near East, he never ceased to be amazed by the remarkable heritage of ancient Egypt and Greece. Schwartzman has always been in awe of the laconic language and simplicity of the carved walls of Egyptian tombs and temples.
Like many contemporary artists, Schwartzman returns again and again for his inspiration to Greek and Roman culture. In the series “Hellennestique” and “Gods and Goddesses,” he strives to convey the beauty of these treasures through the eyes of a modern painter.
A separate series of Schwartzman’s art belongs to travel-inspired watercolors. In the 1960s and 1970s, for various reasons, it was practically impossible for him to travel outside the confines of the Soviet Union. However, within the U.S.S.R he managed to visit many of the most remarkable places of the region-- from the Soviet border with Finland to Bukhara in Uzbekistan, and from Tallinn in Estonia to Siberia’s Lake Baikal. After emigration, Schwartzman found that he had unlimited opportunities to travel, and to sketch.
“Life is too short to visit every spot on the planet, but I try my best.”
Schwartzman has thus taken countless trips to Europe and to the Near East, as well as several trips to the Far East, India, Nepal, China, Central and South America, and of course, the United States and Canada: all of which have been the source of numerous sketches and watercolors.
Peter Schwartzman’s most important series, the “easel paintings,” are created in the studio, and are arguably his most thoughtful. His latest work is painted mostly on large canvases; his technique, oil over a heavy relief of modeling paste and other fillers. The subjects vary from realistic figures and portraits to metaphysical architectural landscapes. Some are still-life paintings which feature a major object depicted in high realism juxtaposed with an almost abstract background.