The Art of Edward Schlinski
Exhibit and Sale

An appreciation of his work

Fig. 1. Men in a line (1960)

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Fig. 2. Ship of State (undated)

Fig. 2. Ship of State (undated)

Fig. 2. Ship of State (undated)

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Fig. 3. The Fire-Eater (1959)

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Fig. 4. Untitled (undated)

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Fig. 5. Untitled

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Fig. 6. Untitled

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Edward Schlinski (1920-1983) was a product of the unique Jewish immigrant subculture of early 20th century America, with its epicenter in New York City. It was a subculture that was both working-class and intellectual, fiercely argumentative and engaged in Left, often radical, politics, and for whom art (or Art) was more of a calling than a profession. Jersey Homesteads, now Roosevelt, New Jersey was an outpost of that subculture, and many of the Roosevelt artists, including Ben Shahn and Jacob Landau, were its products. Unlike both of them, who were all their lives professional artists engaged full-time in making art, Schlinski was a mechanic and a contractor, plumber, electrician and handyman. To him, art was both a calling and a vehicle through which he could express his radical political convictions.

 

One is tempted to classify Schlinski’s work as outsider art, but that would not be entirely true. It is true that Schlinski was not part of the ‘art world’, in the sense of commissions, galleries, and the like – although on a rare handful of occasions he ventured into that world – but he was not a naïve artist, nor was he isolated from other artists during his life, thanks to living in Roosevelt with its vibrant community of painters, printmakers and sculptors. His work, particularly his printmaking, indicates that he had some formal training. Although one could speculate about whether he received some of that training from his fellow Roosevelt artists, perhaps in return for helping fix their cars or their houses, it is more likely that he studied in New York during the 1950s or 1960s, perhaps at the Art Students League.  

His work registers a variety of influences, including Georg Grosz (both for his art and his political engagement, Chagall, Roualt, and, not surprisingly in view of their being neighbors and friends, Ben Shahn. Shahn’s influence is present in Men in a Line (Figure 1), but Schinski’s thoroughly different sensibility shines through the work.  Schlinski’s exuberant, yet not always tightly-controlled, line comes vividly alive in another line drawing, Ship of State, in which the political content which was never far from the surface in much of his work is manifest (Figure 2).

 

Schlinski worked in a variety of media. His legacy includes drawings, prints, oil paintings and a remarkable series of wooden and papier-maché sculptures, which have been characterized as “proto-Red Grooms” works.

 

In some respects, his prints are the most immediately appealing works in his oeuvre, perhaps because the medium dictated a greater degree of self-control and precision than the other media in which he worked. The Fire-Eater (Figure 3) is a beautifully composed yet slightly enigmatic work of considerable power. By contrast, some of his oils prompt more ambivalent reactions. Schlinski has created works of undeniable power, yet many have a rough, unfinished quality which suggests a painter determined to use the canvas to convey the intensity of his feelings and convictions, come what may. Much of his imagery, reflecting his roots in early 20th century working-class Socialist or Communist ideas, reflects the stock figures of that subculture, the bosses, tycoons, and imperialist warmongers. Notably, one of Schlinski’s most overt political gestures during his years in Roosevelt was his construction of a memorial to the assassinated Chilean President Salvador Allende on the Roosevelt Public School grounds. Figure 4, with its almost Surrealist quality and unquestionable intensity, reflects both the strengths and the weaknesses of many of Schlinski’s canvasses.

 

In some respects, though, Schlinski’s papier-machė sculptures are the most remarkable part of his body of work. The image of the strange torso-less creature with its wide-brimmed hat striding forward with a kind of fixed, obsessive determination is compelling, and once again, somewhat enigmatic (Figure 5). While that figure is not, at least overtly, political, the creature in Figure 6 is Schlinski’s take on the trope of the Ugly American, a theme which animated many of his sculptures.

 

In the final analysis, Schlinski’s work is an important contribution to mid-20th century American art. Falling in a liminal space between insider and outsider, between naïve and sophisticated, making art which was not fashionable at the time, or arguably since, Schlinski’s work is overdue for a reappraisal.

Alan Mallach

SAVING SCHLINSKI

 

The Ed Schlinski Collection is homeless. Only your action can save this trove of artwork and preserve the legacy of this Roosevelt artist.

 

Papier maché sculptures, paintings, and a great many works on paper will be on display at:

 

The Fence Line Gallery

10 N. Valley Rd,

Roosevelt, NJ

 

Saturday, August 27, 10:00-4:00 PM

 

ALL works of art need a good home!

 

Roosevelt Arts Project (RAP) has organized this rescue, conducted

an inventory, and plans on maintaining a dedicated webpage for this collection.

Minimum donations:  $5 per print, $10 per painting, $20 per sculpture.

 

All proceeds go to RAP.

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