Hans Schwarz was something of a polymath. Artist, designer, illustrator, sculptor and author but, above all, portrait painter extraordinaire, his career spanned eight decades and two countries and cultures. Schwarz was born in Vienna and came to England on the Kindertransport in 1939 at the age of 16, finding employment with Cadbury in Bournville, but soon being interned on the Isle of Man as an enemy alien; Parliamentary concern about conditions in the camps led to his release in 1941. A sketch from this period shows a strong graphic sense as well as an eye for character and detail.
From here on, Schwarz’s work was mostly commercial and the book illustrates pieces that show his awareness of design as well as his developing use of line. If you want a masterclass in perspective, action and character, Ladder Fall, an ink illustration on page 27, is it. Don’t miss the smallest by-passer, either, the one walking away in the distance, oblivious to the unfolding drama. It’s a classic Schwarz detail that both enhances and balances the piece and which most artists would not have thought to include. While we’re on that page (and you’ll have gathered by now that I’m assuming you’ve taken the hint and got a copy of the book), A Beeching Station from Farmers Weekly (1963) is also packed with detail, observation and humour and includes what I hope is a knowing nod to Rowland Emett. Don’t miss the traffic jam on the bridge as the doomed and “uneconomic” station is packed with animals (this is Farmers Weekly, remember) ready for market.
I could go on and I’m so glad to have discovered this book as well as Hans Schwarz himself, whose titles on drawing, I now realise, passed through my hands in the early 1980’s.
The bulk of the colour in the book is devoted to Schwarz’s portraits – and some landscapes, it should be added. Our Hans was an unconventional user of colour and, having bumped into Bruce Kent at the launch, I don’t think he was altogether pleased at being painted in shades of orange! It comes as a shock, as does the one of Ivor Cutler in rather cold greens. That does, however, immediately conjure the atmosphere of Life In A Scotch Sitting Room Vol 2, Cutler’s wry and surrealistic account of growing up (you’ll look in vain for Vol 1, which is the best part of the joke). It’s the detail and sensitivity we first saw in the other pieces that make the portraits such compassionate works.
The book itself is a masterpiece of agglomerated material, much of which might soon have been scattered and lost if Paul Upton hadn’t come along when he did. As well as plenty of illustrations, Paul has used archive material and stories from family and friends. These are the sort of things that only get remembered for a generation and are easily watered down. As it is, they’re preserved alongside a perceptive analysis of Hans Schwarz’s work, from which I have learned much, both about art and about writing.
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