Review of Charles Schorre
By Peter Brown, published in SPOT, Fall 1997
Charles Schorre, even at seventy-one and burdened with Parkinson's, was one of the youngest people that I have known. He died, still open and still working, far too young and far too soon in the summer of 1996. His death, it seemed at the time, would leave a void that only memories of him and his art could begin to fill.
Yet recently, transposing some of this emptiness, there has appeared a startlingly beautiful new book, Charles Schorre, which, in small but important ways, stands in Charles' stead, mitigating, as words and images sometimes miraculously do, a transition from life to death and back again - not incidentally, a theme that reverberated throughout Schorre's art. Fittingly, the book (and the exhibition curated by David Brauer and Jim Edwards which accompanies it) was produced as a collaborative effort. It was begun before Charles' death by a group of friends and admirers who cared deeply for the artist and his work.
Charles Schorre was a warm, sympathetic, fiercely honest and engaged human being. His life, which he filled with family, art, friends, music, religion, and to varying degrees, the workings of the Houston art community, represented for me, and I think others, a model for what it might mean to be both a committed artist and a fully dimensioned human being.
Charles was smart and experienced and edgy. He was sane and kind and forgiving and gentle. He was also very funny. And he was helpful. He could, with an understanding smile and a simple shake of his head, appear to accept and dismiss some particularly egregious human folly and then, in genuine puzzlement, mull it over for some time. He could gripe about the art establishment and about art in general, and he could talk and write — always with troubled conviction, about art and the making of art, in ways that sprang from himself but moved quietly into the lives of others.
These same humane qualities might be used to describe his art: a mix of oil and acrylic, canvas, watercolor, paper, charcoal, pencils, photographs and occasionally, writing. It was an art that was filled with mystery, grace, vivid beauty, and a reverence for among other things, the natural world, the human form, the ability to make marks, the life of Christ, the best art of the past, the integration of hand with heart, and the fumbling creative path that each of us makes to discovery.
Charles' virtues — a Boy Scout list of kindnesses, reverences, loyalties and determinations I don't think came easily to him. My sense is that they were challenged by his energy, his humor, and his unique brand of Cuero, Texas macho - a gentle gutsiness that could put one at ease, but that certainly, and often, went to work on his sweeter side with a devilish glee.
All of this is to say that he was remarkable and that he is missed. There were certain things it seemed, that only Charles understood. Many in the Houston community sensed this, and David Brauer, in his moving epilogue to the book describes this influence well. (1)
Charles Schorre was born in 1925, and grew up in the small town of Cuero, in south central Texas. He attended the University of Texas, married Miggie Storm in 1948, and went on to dual careers in art and design in Houston. He taught at the Museum of Fine Arts and for a time at Rice; he had a wonderful marriage, raised a family, showed his work and was an integral and pioneering member of the Houston art community.
His career was varied: a mix of painting and drawing, multi- media/photographic collage, graphic art and design — and in this book, each is given credence. Charles was of a piece, with one aspect of his creative life moving easily into the next. Just as his studio was set up to enable him to move from project to project, so to, the book moves - from interest to interest, from informative text, to Schorre's impassioned musings, to the art, to the studio, to photography, to family - all bound together by an enormously effective design.
The book design by Jerry Herring, Rick Gardner's photography, and the various texts and interviews by Herring, Anne Tucker, Jim Edwards, David Crossley, Geoff Winningham, David Brauer, Lew Thomas and others, are visually integrated in ways that are reminiscent both of Schorre and his art. The book's diversity makes sense. It is profusely and imaginatively illustrated. The text, which dips in and out of the book, begins with a warm overview by Anne Tucker describing the man, his art and his place in Houston. And we dive then, quite precipitously, into the rabbit hole that was Schorre's studio, a studio, which, David Crossley suggests, should become a national shrine — a gorgeous multi-leveled warren of color, form, treasures, nooks, photographs, books and pockets that Rick Gardner, who knew Shorre well, photographs with skill and sensitivity. These photographs Herring then collages and butts together, much in the way that the various bits and pieces of the studio itself seem to merge and repeat in theme and variation, and reminiscent also, of the way that Schorre's art itself was constructed. A more formal and quite informative text by Jim Edwards follows that puts the work in both cultural and art historical context - an essay again that is filled with reproductions. And we enter Schorre's life as a teacher — class descriptions by Schorre himself, hand written course notes taken from students' comments, and an energetic remembrance by Geoff Winningham which describes his experience of Schorre's generosity as a teacher.
And the work: first, examples from his time as a designer. He worked for a number of businesses, won awards and eventually worked only on his own terms.
He was a photographer. He often used photographs in his Pages of Books Unpublished, (a monumental ongoing photo/collage project) and he used them as well in his design. Clearly his oddest work, and his straightest photographic work, was his Artist's Handbook - a gridded series of photographs of artists, friends and artworld people with their hands cupped at the sides of their faces — looking either defenseless and cute, mock combative, belligerent or peaceful. Some fine quick portraits come out of this work. But the cumulative effect of all these fairly serious people - names such as Robert Rauschenberg, Gary Winogrand, William Wegman, Saul Bellow, Barbara Rose, Donald Barthelme or Robert Motherwell, as well as a fair representation of the Houston art community, similarly posed in such an odd way, is fascinating - and daunting. I think the project was an ice breaker of sorts for Charles — a way for him to learn new things about the people he was photographing. Time, thought, relationship and the differences and similarities that we possess come into play. A publication of this work in its entirity would be fascinating.
As would a publication of the Pages of Books Unpublished — a sequence of work that combines the concerns outlined above in graceful, surprising ways: short lyrical visual stories that read well individually, but when sequenced, grow and build into an enormously effective body of work. All of his interests are dealt with here - from mark making, to desert work, to the nude, to cruciforms, to birds, apples, bones and shells, to landscape, trees, and the use of vivid and celebratory color.
Charles' art contains many aspects, but a sense of expanding energy, a celebration of seeing and being, of delight in the things around combined with an exploration of the mystery within, best defines the spirit of his art for me. And Pages From Books Unpublished distills this.
Reproductions of Charles' paintings and drawings follow. The reproduced scale of the paintings is unavoidably deceptive in ways that the rest of the book is not, largely because his paintings have so much to do with physical impact. Charles' paintings are a sensory experience — large, enveloping - wild with color and space - or alternatively crisp, brooding in a way that suggests the religious connotations that night skies can imply. One flies through them, transported by color and symbol: diptychs, triptychs, cruciforms, and always, that kind, electric color.
There are pointed titles. Charles was a good writer, whether in marginal notes in his collages or in prose-poem essays, words were important to him and he used them well. Jim Edward's essay is helpful on all this work — particularly on Schorre's great gift as a draftsman: the drawings and quick sketches that he produced again and again in his notebooks.
The book concludes with a series of interviews and reviews that remind one of Schorre's openness to improvisation — in words as well as work.
I'm quite certain that Charles would have loved this book. He was an honest critic — and there are things wrong with any publication — but not many missteps took place here. He was involved in the early stages of this book's design - and on the choice of the art. With his help and with the help of many, we have a beauty.
A number of people are to be thanked and congratulated for the appearance of Charles Schorre — certainly at the top of the list is Miggie Schorre, Charles' wife, who he also saw as his best critic (see the interview with Lew Thomas and James Bell for her enormous influence); Mike McLanahan and Loomis Slaughter organized the Charles Schorre Project and created an advisory board of John Boehm, Frec and Betty Fleming, Lester Giese, Jane Gregory, Helen Morgan, Alton Parks, and Wallace Wilson Jr. Our indebtedness goes to these people, to the contributors already mentioned and to the hundreds of others who gave to this book.
Charles' work and spirit move on — and Charles Schorre serves as access to both, a touchstone and reminder — and an eloquent introduction for those who did not have the profound pleasure of knowing him.
(1) "Stylistic influence is the most superficial of influences. The greater achievement is to teach by example how one may become a thinking, functioning, creative being. That is why Schorre exerted such an influence on so many people who were not artists. That is why so many of his friends needed to own his work - not as a token of loyalty but rather to have a living example of his method in their private lives. Creativity is, after all, a way of being, not just a way of doing. It has been, more often than one might have wished, a somewhat disappointing experience to meet an artist whose works one has admired. I never met anyone who was not glad to have known Charles Shorre. In him one was reminded of the vigor and discipline of being an artist. Up or down, ill or well, he went to his studio and worked. He did what all true artists do, ignoring the fluctuations of taste and market. He simply did the work."
David E. Brauer, Charles Schorre, (Houston: Herring Press and the Houston Artists Fund) p. 200.
Review of Charles Schorre
By Byron Ferris, published in Communication Arts magazine, 1997
Our studio has a small shelf of books that we turn to when we need inspiration and a reminder that design and art are the same language. Among them are an exhibition catalog of the design paintings and sculptures of Max Bill, the Swiss master; Art in Our Times by Peter Selz, which compares gallery art, architecture, sculpture and exhibition design in our century and George Nelson's Problems of Design with its elegant mastery of language about design that we can steal from for client presentations.
Now comes another book for our shelves, a retrospective of the work of Charles Schorre, published by Jerry Herring and the Houston Artists Fund. We find it particularly sympathetic because Schorre spanned the disciplines of professional design, painting, illustration, sculpture and photography during his life.
Schooner took photos that appeared in the Popular Photography Annual, illustrated for Look and Playboy, designed books that were selected for the AIGA Fifty Best Books of the Year, and worked as an art director for Foote, Cone & Belding. At the Aspen Design Conference he was a comfortable presence and became friends with noted designers Gyorgy Kepes, Saul Bass, Niels Different, Milton Glaser, Lou Dorfsman and Jerry Herring, good networking that led to national illustration work. But at the agency he got an ulcer because of what he called "organized labor." Though he has excelled at both book design and advertising design, the organized structures of typography with its horizontal lines and vertical columns of type seemed to ask that he "escape the grid." It was his nature.
In a 1967 profile of Charles Schorre in Communication Arts, Dugal Stermer wrote, "Schorre says, 'Each of us is unique. No matter who we are, if we are breathing, we are unique and it is our responsibility to be ourselves and express this uniqueness.'"
In 1969, Schorre continued his furious output of illustrations and paintings in his new Houston studio. About this studio, Jerry Herring writes, "Charlie's work flowed out of him in so many conscious and unconscious ways. He managed to get much of it down on paper or canvas, but what didn't make it ended up scattered around him in his studio. Because the colors and gestures that he sent off could not be held by the canvases laid out in front of him, it seemed as if the walls of his small work space were coated with the energy of his mind. His work had always been a combination of thought and play, adventure and cunning. I very much liked visiting this place. Because when I left, I would feel rejuvenated, fresh. That is the effect this place had, this small, cramped inferno of spontaneity. This work in progress..."
Herring designed Charles Schorre with some of the sense of spontaneity that charlie's work exemplifies. It is a large book, beautifully printed in clothbound in brilliant purple, filled with the warmth and brightness of Schorre's south Texas workplace and the warmth and brilliance of a soul full of art.
There are personable photos of Schorre's classes at the School of Architecture at Rice University where he was invited to teach the skills to render people, trees and automobiles. He took the classes outdoors and among downtown skyscrapers and added poetry, music, photography and life drawing to the class experience. (You might notice a small half-inch photo of Louis Kahn as a guest lecturer among his class notes.) He told his students, "Each of us is a unique contraption (piece of architecture). Our fathers and mothers make us so. Therefore, our traces (makes, scratchings, architecture) should be so." The pages of his personal handbooks are shown, photos of friends and greats each with their hands at the sides of their faces; hands that also reveal character.
The primary reason that this book joins the spirit-soaring "Inspirations" self in our studio is the over 100 pages of drawings, paintings, design and illustrations that I feel from the work of this outwardly gracious and gentle but inwardly fierce and individual man. When you need to remember that art and design speak the same visual, silent language, open this book and "feel rejuvenated, fresh."
Review of Charles Schorre
By Rynn Williams, published in Graphis magazine, issue 310, 1997
A collage of any kind highlights its own process. Images are appropriated, scraps are collected, cut, and torn. Edges remain visible and they are often layered — surfaces interacting with other surfaces. Rarely neat and seamless, collages are infused with the haphazard thrill of discovery — a process as visible and important as the final product.
Charles Schorre, the Houston, Texas-based artist who died last year at 71, was an acclaimed painter, graphic artist illustrator, and photographer. But it is his collages that best reflect Schorre's characteristic energy and his unending quest for a way to incorporate the spontaneous revelations of daily experience into his art. "Pages From Books Unpublished," for instance, the collage series Schorre began in 1977 and worked on for the rest of his life, is an intriguing dialog between a wide range of mediums — photographs are set into torn pastel studies, quiet sketches resonate against bold acrylic brushwork. Text runs absentmindedly behind forceful nudes, while the smooth planes of a torso become an enigmatic landscape on a wash of gray. Unlike most collagists, Schorre limited his material to printed matter he generated himself — the collages are an intimate autobiography of the images, shapes, and textures that preoccupied him, and the interplay between them.
But the lush, comprehensive volume Charles Schorre is more than a catalogue of his work, and in this difference lies its strength. The book reproduces his vibrantly colored abstractions in oil and acrylic, his controversial crucifix paintings, his fluid, organic watercolors and energetic drawings. But it also includes a section on his Houston studio, which was a whirlwind of color and form — old tools, bones, peacock feathers, wasps' and birds' nests, fossilized seashells. And everywhere, works in progress. It was here, Schorre writes, that the collages came to life for him: "The studios where I work daily are similar to an archeological dig. Scattered drawings, photographs, paintings and their combinations on the walls, floors and tables... one move provides a move froth other... I move, the work moves and in turn causes me again to move."
The book includes essays by friends and fellow artists, a section of critical reviews, and a section dedicated to the life drawing class he taught at Rice University from 1959 to 1972. Schooner challenged students to look at every object with the fresh perspective of a child. Schooner was the kind of teacher who inspires careers — photographer Geoff Winningham recalls him as "perhaps the most passionate artist and teacher I've ever known. He crackled with ideas and energy. Suddenly I saw myself as a man who was capable, literally, of performing artistic miracles."
Artist David Brauer, who organized the Houston exhibition that will coincide with the publication of the book, writes of Schorre: "In him one was reminded of the rigor and discipline of being an artist. Up or down, ill or well, he went to his studio and worked. He did what all true artists do, ignoring the fluctuations of taste and market. He simply did the work."
It is from the accumulation of such details that one draws the most compelling message from the book — Schorre's life was inseparable from his art, and this unfailing spirit and enthusiasm inspired those who came in contact with him. Rather than a mere résumé of his finished work, Charles Schorre is a tribute to process, and to the creative spirit.
Schorre entered in the Houston advertising world in 1948. After a two-year stint at a small local agency, he became an art director for Foote, Cone & Belding, and for four years he directed, designed, illustrated and photographed projects for the agency's predominately oil and gas industry clients before setting out as a freelancer. Schooner credits the advertising business with giving him an ulcer, and says it took him years to unlearn a number of its lessons. "I worked so long being a communicator that I'm not trying to sell a message anymore," Schorre wrote. "I used to be about orientation... Now I'm about mystery, polarity, sometimes even confusion... Questions instead of answers."
One of the most mysterious projects of Schorre's later years is his "Artisits' Handbook." In response to a publisher's request for a "How To" manual for aspiring artists, Schorre put together a collage-type "book" without a single instructive word — merely photographs of artists, from the lesser-known to luminaries such as Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe, with no identifying marks but their diverse and idiosyncratic palms facing forward, raised on either side of their heads. Schooner described the project as "a polemic against how to paint or how to do anything books. I never taught technique of anything like that because... you have to learn, but as soon as that's over, you have to forget it." While Schorre scorned the "how to" concept, Charles Schorre, a kind of collage in itself, is inadvertently more of an inspirational manual for artists than he would ever have knowingly produced.
On the cover , Schorre stands with the solid, workmanly stance of an August Sander subject. He could well be a butcher, or a blacksmith. The similarity is no coincidence, nor is it likely that Schorre, ever-working, solid as a carpenter, would have disparaged the comparison.
Book reflects on Schorre as artist, friend
By Patricia C. Johnson, published in the Houston Chronicle, April 1997
When Charles Schorre died in July 1996, an exhibition of his life's work and an accompanying book were nearing completion.
Both projects were initiated by Mature Artists of Texas, a nonprofit association organized in 1995 by friends. The Charles Schorre Project was funded with $100,000 raised from the community and the project's eight-member committee.
Now the exhibition, curated by art historian David Brauer, is set to premiere next month at Corpus Christi's Art Museum of South Texas. It will travel over the next 12-15 months to the Galveston Art Center, the Tyler Museum of Art, and the museum of Texas A&M University in College Station. A venue in Houston is being negotiated, said Alexander K. McLanahan, chairman of the Schorre Project.
Meantime, Meredith Long & Co., the artist's longtime Houston dealer, will present a selection of works from his estate opening in April.
The book, a monograph on one of Houston's most beloved artists, was designed by Jerry Herring. It is being released this week. Titled Charles Schorre, it is essentially a picture book with accompanying introduction by Museum of Fine Arts photography curator Anne Tucker and a biographical essay by art historian Jim Edwards. An affectionate remembrance by Houston photographer Geoff Winningham provides insight into Schorre the teacher and friend.
Schorre was born in Cuero, Texas, in 1925. He earned spending money as a teen playing the saxophone in honky-tonks across the state. After graduating from the University of Texas-Austin in 1948, he went to work for an advertising agency in Houston and taught at Museum School (now the Glassell School of Art). One semester of teaching drawing at Rice University stretched into 12 years.
When he left Rice in 1972, Schorre dedicated himself to his dual passions: painting and photography. He was rewarded with honors ranging from a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts to a residency in Saudi Arabia funded by Mobil Corp.
He exhibited his paintings regularly, his photographs less often. In the latter medium, he focused on two open-ended projects, Pages from a Book Unpublished and the Artist's Handbook, both begun in 1970-1971.
In Pages, Schorre combined fragments of photographs he'd taken with painted, drawn or collaged elements to create allusive visual poems. A selection of them was exhibited by the Contemporary Arts Museum and the CEPA Gallery (Buffalo, N.Y.) in 1981, and he continued to add to them until the end of his life.
The Handbook quite literally is about the hands of artists (and others). Schorre asked peers, colleagues and friends, including photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, art historian Barbara Rose and many of Houston's best known artists and writers, to hold up their hands around their ears. Only four people refused him.
In a 1988 note reproduced in the present book, Schorre explained: "I was asked by Watson-Guptill, the publisher of of American Artist magazine, to do a 'How To' book. The more I got into it, the stronger I realized that I did not believe in what I was attempting to do. 'How To' books (were) never my manner of teaching." He never exhibited any of these intriguing portraits, but they are integral to the current publication.
Some artists, Brauer writes in an afterward, "exert an influence by what they do, others by who and what they are. Schorre was of the latter persuasion."
Texas Institute of Letters honors outstanding writers
Published in the Houston Chronicle, April 1998
The Texas Institute of Letters presented $20,600 in awards and introduced 16 new members at its 62nd annual meeting Saturday at the Houstonian.
[Below, from the list of winners]
Stanely Marcus Award ($1,000) for best fine-printing book design:
Jerry Herring, Houston, for Charles Schorre (Herring Press and Houston Artists Fund)