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Richard Schreiner, 1945-2012

| July 12, 2012

Richard Schriner. (© FlaglerLive)

Richard Schreiner, Palm Coast’s greatest artist and one of its most luminous minds, died today. He had been briefly, seriously, unexpectedly ill at the end of a life devoted, among other things, to deconstructing man’s illnesses with unflinching beauty. The artistry of his brush was rivaled only by the artistry of a heart that, to those lucky enough to have known him, had no bounds. And it ultimately failed him because he could not be bound by it. He was one of the few men I loved unreservedly, especially for his anger, which he wielded with an affection that brazed the colors of even his most virulent paintings. Two of those hang in my house, including the one in the portrait above, like sentinels to Richard’s memory. There is consolation in his work. There can never be consolation for Richard’s loss, except for the pleasure in knowing him now free to eternally damn the death that briefly taunted him, and to know him taunting god in turn, whose apology he may or may not accept.

The review of the retrospective reposted below first appeared barely a month ago, on June 9, the day his last show opened at Hollingsworth Gallery, where he made one of his last public appearances. We will always miss you Richard, we will always love you, and we’ll always be seeing you.

–Pierre Tristam

Richard Schreiner: The Retrospective

Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

—W.B. Yeats

The titles of Richard Schriner’s paintings give you an idea of his themes: “Fat Bastard.” “Man Bat.” “Fear.” “Rage.” “Conflict.” “In-Laws.” “Congressman.” “Corporate Dog.” “Madman.” “Insurgent.” “Dictator.” “Manwort.” “Alzheimer.” “Crucifix.” “Final Sentence.”

Blunt as the titles are, the paintings by Palm Coast’s most provocative artist are more so. They’re whirls of assaults. Their subjects are either offending or being offended, trodden, clobbered, sometimes from self-abuse: the alcoholic sitting in the kind of deep orange lifted out of a Black Label bottle, the cop and his K-9s drunk on his own power, the artist—if it is an artist—smashing his own sculptures, or maybe those of others. If the violence isn’t overt in a Schriner painting, it’s almost always implied, even in one of his own favorite works: “The Poet,” a more introspective portrait of a man sitting with a book rather than a drink, a headless torso in the background, a wastebasket in the foreground.

  • Art of Violet Skipp Haffner, opened Feb. 8, running through the month at the Hollingsworth Gallery, at City Marketplace. Reach the Gallery at 386/871-9146 or visit its website.

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The painting was inspired by “The Wasteland,” the T.S. Eliot poem, though these days the poem that comes to mind most, when the subject is Richard Schreiner, is “Sailing to Byzantium,” the W.B. Yeats poem that begins with that harsh line, so out of place in Palm Coast: “That is no country for old men,” and builds into the kind of imagery symbolism as if special-ordered for a Schreiner painting. “Sailing to Byzantium” isn’t just about the ravage of age, but about its premature ambushes, death’s inherent betrayal of life and the attempt by the artist, the “dying animal,” to make an escape by way of art and philosophy.

Schreiner might have painted just such a work if he were able. He isn’t. A few months ago he was at his studio at Hollingsworth Gallery almost every day, painting, teaching, leading tai-chi sessions, conversing with the stamina of a Left Bank philosopher. Then he was hit by a stroke. And another. He was diagnosed with amyloidosis—specifically, amyloid cardio-myopathy, a rare disease that leads to the build-up of so-called amyloid proteins made in the bone marrow, that then affect the heart, infiltrating and disrupting its proper functioning, and triggering strokes.

At 67, Schriner is in a wheelchair. He cannot paint anymore. He can barely speak, and when he does, he speaks in a faint voice that sounds as if it’s coming from very far away. Maybe Byzantium. He knows the score. He knows what it means when, as when he visited Hollingsworth Gallery with family two weeks ago, there was a lot of picture-taking of him with his work, him with his family members, him with other artists—the sort of memorializing of a beloved man when there’s still time.

“You have to have the courage to just see through it,” Schreiner says about his—what to call it? Disease? Condition? Sentence? “It’s part of my nature that I can’t worry about things like that. It’s just having the strength and purpose to just see through it.” And so he talks about accepting what happens. “What else can one do? You just stand there and see through it.” He’s choosing neither to be overly optimistic nor to think he’ll die. He thinks of himself as somewhere in the middle. “It’s not something I chose. It’s an existential thing. I live therefore I am.”

Schreiner’s ‘The Poet.’ Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Existentialism has been central to his philosophy and his art, now the subject of the largest retrospective Hollingsworth Gallery in Palm Coast has devoted to any artist in its three years. The retrospective opens tonight at 6, with a free reception. Schriner is scheduled to be there.

The retrospective is overdue, as are many things that have to do with Richard Schreiner: he’s never been the Artist of the Year in the 12-year history of that award, though he should have been the moment he became an integral part of Hollingsworth Gallery. He should have had a retrospective a long time ago, though, in Hollingsworth Gallery co-founder JJ Graham’s defense, Schriner had quit painting for years. He’d spent 37 years teaching art and heading a Long Island school district’s art program before moving to Palm Coast five years ago, disgusted with the art world and vowing never to paint again.

Then he walked into Hollingsworth. Something happened, as it often does when artists and patrons walk into that place. He got inspired. He got back to work. And a very close relationship developed between Graham and Schreiner. There would always be time for a retrospective. And suddenly there wasn’t.

As much as Schreiner’s illness has been demolishing him, it’s been wrecking Graham, too, as he poured his energies into preparing the show for the past month or more, scouring Schriner’s hundreds of canvasses, stretching them, deciding what to exhibit, and speaking of the show as a lot more than another monthly Hollingsworth offering.

“I don’t want people to mistake that I’m just doing this because he’s sick, but maybe that is a little bit of why,” Graham says. “It’s more to try to inspire and to get through this. I don’t give a fuck what the doctors say. People get better all the time, and for him to be able to see this is I think is going to give him a charge, it’s going to kind of quicken him. That’s what I want to be very clear about. It’s not a eulogy. This is a retrospective. The fact that he got sick just lit a fire under my ass. I was going to do this all along, but I was kind of waiting for his word. He was painting. He’d pretty much laid down his brushes before this gallery opened. He was pissed off at the art world. To see him come here, reignite, and watch him take off the head of the CEO of BP and put it on a dog, that portrait right there—it’s Rick Scott, it transformed into a freaking donkey—to see how his mind works, and then go and see it on a much larger scale, to me just hanging the show is a journey. I know Richard, but by the time I finish this show I feel like I know so much more about him. And I don’t care if we don’t sell a damn one of these. This isn’t decorative art. This to me is high art, and it’s about vision.”

The show was already a charge for Schreiner even as Graham was bringing it together. Two weeks ago when he was first wheeled into the gallery and saw his canvasses spread out all over the place, many of them already on the walls, Schreiner welled up. He hadn’t seen his works together in years. He couldn’t paint, but memories of painting them flooded back. “I did a better job than I thought, in some ways,” he said.

There were also the occasions when Graham would go to Schreiner’s house to pick out canvasses. “Every time JJ comes to the house and he pulls out the art work, he’s alive. You see him, he opens up, he lights up, he gets to talk about his art work,” Schreiner’s wife Arleen said at the time of Richard’s visit at Hollingsworth.

She speaks of his early days as an artist—he studied at Yale and Columbia University, where he completed his doctorate in education under the guidance of Maxine Greene, the celebrated philosopher of education whose career was devoted to making art an integral part of any education. And she speaks, herself struggling through words, of his latest days, contending with a besieged heart. “Yesterday he said he’s not afraid to die,” Arleen said. “It’s part of life, and it’s OK. But if you sit down and you talk to him, his mind is all there. He’s brilliant.”

She goes on:  “His will is iron. The doctor said, having gone through these two strokes, having gone through this second one, how hard it is for him to eat or drink—he has an iron will. He just does. And he’s always been true to himself. He’s never done what other people want. He could have sold everything if he would just do pretty things for people’s homes. Never. He was always true to himself. Never once did he give in, not even when I asked him to do something. It’s a funny story. I wanted him to do a sailboat for my family room in New York. I just wanted him to do it. My brother has the painting. He did the sailboat all right. It is so eerie, and there are no people on it. It’s just the boat. But I got my sailboat.”

Graham gave the Schreiner retrospective a French title: “La viscère de la bête noir,” which, to keep close to the intent, translates as “the bowels of the dark beast.” It fits the paintings. It doesn’t fit the man behind them. Schreiner is his works’ sharpest contrast: luminous, serene, wry, and still sailing.

He’s been reading Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, one of the great works of prison literature written when Boethius, the 6th century philosopher,  was unjustly held before his execution at the hands of a king Schreiner could have painted in his sleep. “It’s about all the bullshit out there,” Schreiner says of the old classic in language also characteristic of the undying animal. “It’s all about you, what you have inside you. It’s what makes any of us. Nothing is going to make it better in terms of money, this, that, connections and all that stuff. It’s you being rounded as a person.”

It’s also why the retrospective could just as easily have been called “Sailing to Byzantium,” that Byzantium of Schreiner’s own, “of what is past, or passing, or to come.”

Richard Schreiner and JJ Graham, surrounded by some of the innumerable works from Schreiner’s career, several dozen of which form a Schriner retrospective, opening this evening at Hollingsworth Gallery. (© FlaglerLive)

Richard Schreiner. (© FlaglerLive)

(© FlaglerLive)

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33 Responses for “Richard Schreiner, 1945-2012”

  1. Sue Costagliola says:

    I had the wonderful experience of working with “Doc” Schreiner at East Meadow School District on Long Island when he was the Director of Art. He had the best sense of humor and when you put Doc together with his secretary Lynn, well let’s just say it was a stand up routine that would have us rolling with laughter. Great memories. He will be missed.


  2. Lynn Naranjo says:

    I had the luck and joy of being Rich’s secretary for five happy years! He was the most wonderful gentleman and gentle man to ever walk the halls of the East Meadow SD, not to mention the planet.

    Rich would teach at the high school and come to the office late mornings. His arrival was the highlight of my day! We’d do our “schtick” and make ourselves and the secretaries dissolve into tears from laughing so hard!

    He told me more than once that when he’d complain about someone, his mom would say to him, “And you’re so perfect?!?” To me, he was so perfect! I will miss his laughter, wit and kind heart more than I can adequately express. My heart goes out to his wife, Arleen.


  3. Shari Zimmerman says:

    Richard was my art chair in East Meadow for many years. I have many fond memories of him. My sincere condolences to his family.


  4. Susan Smith says:

    I worked with Rich for many years at East Meadow H.S. It was always a joy to meet him in the hall. We would share stories, rumors, and jokes. Above all we shared a love of teaching! We enjoyed many wonderful dinners with our fellow department chairs and their spouses. It is there that I had the pleasure of meeting Arleen. What a wonderful couple, each outstanding scholars in their own rights. Arleen, you are in my thoughts and prayers as I fondly remember Richard.


  5. Kathy Gooding says:

    I am very shocked and saddened by the news of Rich’s passing. Rich and I were colleagues as art educators long before I came to East Meadow as Asst. Supt. Rich was an outstanding educator and friend. I’m sorry I could not see his later works. They sound very intriguing. I know I would have been very impressed and he and I would have had some good laughs in our discussions over them.

    My thoughts are with his family and friends.


  6. Catherine Reider says:

    So sorry to hear about Rich! We were in college together, Siena and then I worked with him in East Meadow. I know how much he loved to paint and I am glad he got to do so much in Florida.
    Arlene, my condolences to you and your family.


  7. Denis Tarpey says:

    I worked with Rich in the East Meadow District, first as fellow teachers and later as administrators. He was one of the most talented, funniest, caring, intelligent people I have met in my life. It was always a pleasure to spend time with him, no matter what the situation. I think of him as the “Renaissance Man” in the best sort of way. RIP, Rich, you will be remembered and missed………


  8. Gerri Antonelli says:

    Rich Schreiner was a class act – - always impeccably dressed with suit jacket, shirt and tie. I saw him everyday during the years I worked in the East Meadow Music & Art Dept. – 1989-2000. His leadership and integrity were evident throughout the school year, but most importantly at the districtwide art shows where the artworks of the students – - paintings, sculptures, architectural displays and crafts – - were on display. He was always pleasant, smiling, and easy to talk to. Deepest condolences.


  9. carolee passaro says:

    I first met “Doc” Schreiner when I worked at Woodland Jr. HS. Two of my children were fortunate enough to have him as an art teacher. Surely, they were not “Rembrandts”, but “Doc” Schreiner mae them think they were. He gave them praise and encouragement always. Later, when I worked at EMHS and passed through the halls “Doc” was never too busy to stop and have a conversation with me. I am truly saddened to hear of his passing, as will my children. I am glad to have had our paths cross.


  10. Arlene Volpe and Tom Gargiulo says:

    It is very hard to describe the void left in your heart once Richard has entered into your life. You know you will never again see this wonderful man who makes you laugh out loud, or stir your intellect with his paintings. He had so much love to pass on and will continue to do so with every memory we have of him. We will treasure the times we shared with Arleen and Rich forever.


  11. Anonymous says:

    Richard was my art chairman and a pleasure to work with. I just learned of his passing and was shocked and so saddened. He was sorely missed at the East Meadow schools and he will certainly be missed now.
    Dana Epstein


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