The Oregon Coast Council for the Arts presents the exhibition “Eye and Spirit” by Coastal Lane County artist Michael Schwartz from August 4 to September 30 in the Coastal Oregon Visual Artists Showcase (COVAS) at the Newport Visual Arts Center. “Eye and Spirit” will feature pit-fired ceramic work, including disc forms and wall pieces. An opening reception for the exhibition is scheduled for September 8, 5-7pm, with an artist talk at 6:30pm.
Michael Schwartz was born in Brooklyn and went to school in New York City, from kindergarten through medical school. After an active psychiatric practice in Denver, Colorado, for 27 years, Schwartz retired to Florence, Oregon, in 1995. There he took his first pottery lesson. “I didn’t know that I’d fall in love,” he says about pottery. “But now half my double garage has become my pottery studio.”
Michael Schwartz’ specialty is pit-fired ceramics in which no glaze is used to color the work. Pit firing is an ancient process predating the advent of the kiln. Colors come from the interaction of fire and smoke working on the salts and metals with which the artist has treated the pieces.
Pit-firing is one of the earliest pottery processes and predates the advent of the kiln. The pots are literally fired in a pit dug in the artist’s backyard. Schwartz’ clean line forms put a modern spin on the ancient technique.
“The morning after pit firing is a cross between gift-opening and archeology, when I see what has come from the ground,” says Schwartz. “The pots and bowls are washed, allowed to dry, and then rubbed with wax to return the burnished surface’s satiny sheen.”
Michael Schwarz’ pottery work is on display at five coastal Oregon galleries–Second Street Gallery in Bandon, Tsunami Gallery in Gardner, River Gallery in Florence, Touchstone Gallery in Yachats and the Freed Gallery in Lincoln City. He’s won Best of Show twice and been awarded multiple ribbons at “Celebrate the Arts” at the Florence Events Center. Most recently, Schwartz was one of 60 artists chosen to display work at “Florence Fest,” sponsored by the Florence Regional Arts Alliance, KCST and the Florence Chamber of Commerce.
“Michael is a potter’s potter,” says Touchstone Gallery owner Jacquee Christnot.
The disc form is central to Michael Schwartz’ ceramic work. He makes two different kinds: a solid form and a form with a hole in the center, which Schwartz calls an “Ourobos,” a Greek term referring to a stylized snake with its tail in its mouth. To the artist, this has come to represent the recurrent cycle of life and death.
In considering his previous psychiatric practice, Michael Schwartz says he would work with patients to help them discover their authentic selves…to find some peace for themselves. When he works in his studio, he’s able to do the same for himself. “Classical music is in the background, and I’m one with my clay,” says Schwartz. “Both sides of my brain are engaged…the left envisions a form that I put into realty with my hands, while my right cerebral hemisphere gets lost in fire’s variability. I have found my authentic self. As I look back on my life, I’ve come to realize that I was in lock step to become an MD and then a psychiatrist…no questions asked. Now I feel more genuine…I love what I do.”
The COVAS Showcase is open Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 4pm.