JULY 2015: THE FACE OF AMERICA
For years, sculptor Ivan Schwartz and his team have been carving 3-D replicas of the nation’s most famous figures. Now, we shine a light on the man who brings the legends to life.
American sculptor Ivan Schwartz is a painter and inventor who has always been interested in what lies in his peripheral vision. That perspective is incredibly clear when you’re here in his fantastic Brooklyn studio, StudioEIS.
The initials reflect the fact that StudioEIS is a family affair (the E is for Ivan’s brother, Elliot Schwartz (pictured above, left). They also work with their sister, Debra Schwartz, whom they credit with keeping the studio running smoothly.
Last month, we toured StudioEIS and talked with the sculptor about his past and what he envisions for his future. Scroll down for our interview.
David Bruce Smith: Tell us what you mean when you refer to looking at the world from a peripheral point of view.
Ivan Schwartz: We try to differentiate between what is real and what people hold in their imagination. For example, if we were commissioned to do a sculpture of George Washington, there is a huge difference between what has been written about Washington — extensive descriptions of his personality, how he smiled a lot and had a great sense of humor, and even liked to dance — and the images we see of him. So the question we ask ourselves is how can we find the real person that is not the construct of those painters, sculptors, and photographers. And that’s what I consider to be peripheral vision: It exists, but you have to mine it.
Hope Katz Gibbs: What made you decide to become a sculptor?
Ivan Schwartz: I think a lot of artists become artists because they were influenced by others. In my case, it was a high school art teacher. He knew I had no interest in all the regular studies that would have pointed me in the direction of a premed degree. Also, I think artists are speculators, and risk takers. They want to challenge themselves with ideas and the possibility of creating something that never existed before. The confluence of those two things shaped me.
David Bruce Smith: The result has been a very diverse portfolio, including sculptures of icons ranging from James and Dolley Madison to Andy Taylor from “The Andy Griffith Show” and Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched.” How did you make the shift from one genre to another?
Ivan Schwartz: We are able to make the transition, I think, because we started the business years ago making portraits. The first set was for the Richard Nixon Library, which was creating a portrait gallery of world leaders. We worked on Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, and Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, which was cool because all of these peoples were enemies during the Cold War. Those who did work in public spaces took note, and we started getting hired by entertainment venues, architects, and designers whose work is not limited to the literal or allegorical.