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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.

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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. Linda H. says:

    I have known Arlene and Richard only recently and had no idea that Richard was such an accomplished painter. Thank you for sharing your gift with us here in Palm Coast. My favorites were the one to the right of of him in the picture (Isolation, I believe) and also The Poet.

    All I can say after visiting this opening is WOW. Not often are you going to see museum quality work in a local gallery. This was a real pleasure.

    In addition, the time and effort put into mounting all these pieces must have been unbelievable. All I can say is thank you for a very rare opportunity, JJ. This was my first visit to the gallery. I will be back.

  2. w.ryan says:

    Riveting, Brave and Bold! Richards retrospective is an amazing example of the life of an artist. His work is his wealth. Wealthy beyond compare. Committed and consistent his work spans decades of the human condition combining aspects of life most of us veer away from depicting or coming to terms with. He didn’t waiver from his style and subject matter. As great an artist as he is his work came at a time when cliche art was in fashion and Richard, in my opinion,wasn’t praised as he should have been. What talent we have in Palm Coast! He is an amazing artist! Kudos to the premiere art entity in Palm Coast; The Hollingsworth Art Gallery, for exposing us to high echelon art. Richard, get well soon so we can hang out at the Hollingsworth.

  3. Harold Garde says:

    Once again the Hollingsworth Galley is to be admired and respected. The exhibiting of the this retrospective is a fine tribute to all concerned with art and artists.
    Harold garde

  4. Joni Short says:

    I was lucky to know and work in the schools with Richard. He was an outstanding person — and obviously an incredible artist. RIP Richard. You will be missed but not forgotten. And thank you, Pierre, for your perspective of his special life and talents.

    • KEN CRO-KEN says:

      Dr. Shreiner was my first REAL art teacher in 8th Grade in Junior High School. He took my art along with many other students to the High School for a show. He made me feel special. Such a powerful experience, I knew this was important to also do as a teacher and did so while Creative Arts Director for the two high schools, five buildings from the former World Trades Center, just five months after the tragic events of 09/11/01. While visiting family in my hometown in 2003, I went to East Meadow High School and had the good fortune to be able to tell Dr. Schreiner what I had done and thanked him for the inspiration to become an artist and teacher. Humble response, Dr. Shreiner said the shows I did with the students in downtown Manhattan was “bigger than what he did”. I told him that if it were not for him creating a show for his students, I would not have known how the importance to do so myself. I visited several more times and talk to some of his classes. How lucky I was to have him as a teacher and to also have the rare opportunity to thank him for helping to mold my life. Paint on Dr. Shreiner!!!!

  5. Brooke says:

    I have 3 of Richards sailboat paintings…we bought his mothers house from him about 2 years ago. They are hanging in our bathroom, we love them.

    • arleen says:

      He was happy you bought the home. He was sure his mother would have loved your family. Cherish his work. You have a rare glimpse into his playfulness.

  6. Geezer says:

    What a fantastic talent.

    My heartfelt condolences to Richard Schreiner’s friends and family.

  7. Richlin says:

    Richard with that twinkle in your eye, your warm and welcoming smile, your boyish wicked sense of humor always brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart. We have known both Richard and Arlene for a few years, but it seems like a lifetime. I regret not having more time with Richard. I appreciate our friendship and will cherish the memory of Richard. I respect Richard’s brilliance in his art and accomplishments. Most of all I value his humanity! We are blessed to have had Richard in our lives. Arlene we love you and will be here for you.

    • Lori Von says:

      Mr. Schreiner was one of the best subs I have ever had! He will be missed by many students and teachers at ITMS!

  8. William & Amy Brant says:

    What a tremendous loss. Our already tiny community is that much poorer for missing him among our company. Here’s to absent friends.

  9. eva bishop says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with your family….Thank you Richard for all the knowledge and treasures you shared with us. Your presence will be truly missed.. ..Sincerely Eva Bishop

  10. Justice for All says:

    Although I never knew him, Richard captured my alcoholic father/background with his brush strokes. I recognized the figure in the chair…

    Thank you, Pierre and J.J. for the important work you for the community, whether we know/appreciate it.

  11. arleen says:

    No one will miss him more than me. Thank you for all of your love and prayers. He will live on through his work and through all of the people he touched. Look around and you will see him. His body is gone but his essence is still here.

    • Brooke says:

      Arleen, please come by Feling Lane if you would like to have the artwork he left here, we love it but I didnt know if you wanted to keep it..they are the sailboat paintings. Please stop by here sometime if you would like. :)

    • Manuela W. says:

      Liebe/dear Arleen, vergeblich haben wir auf euren Besuch in Deutschland gewartet. Wollte Richard doch die Heimat seiner Vorfahren besuchen. In Gedanken sind wir bei dir und trauern mit dir.

      Our thoughts and prayers go out to you.

      Love Manuela and family – Stuttgart, Germany

    • bruce and lucille garland says:

      From the time we were kids, Richie was always a great friend.
      We’ll remember the times we shared fondly.

  12. Robert Cadiz says:

    Louie called me yesterday and gave me the sad news. I’m sorry for your loss but I’m sure you will always remember him with fond memories. I’ll be in De Bary to visit your parents on Thursday, August 9th. Perhaps we can see you there.

    Love, your cousin Bobby

    • Maxine Kronick says:

      He lived, he loved, he laughed and he left a legacy we will forever be touched by.
      You will be missed,


  13. w.ryan says:

    I announced Richards passing to our Facebook H.S.Art and Design page. This is what Yvonne Fitzner(A&D Alumni Pres.) wrote: Yvonne Fitzner- Weldon, I’m so sorry to hear about Richard Schreiner’s passing. It was just about a month ago that you wrote to me about him and his wonderful works of art, and his recent illness. I had hoped to be able to contact some of his classmates (’63) on his behalf. Kindly extend my condolences to his loved ones.

  14. Mercedez McCartney says:

    I was fortunate enough to be with Richard and his family during his final days. Listening to stories of his childhood, dancing to his favorite musicians, swimming in the salt water pool overlooking the canal and simply holding his smooth, beautiful hand while listening to his labored breath are all gifts that I will always treasure. I love you Richard. You were an inspiration until the end.

  15. Patti G.Christian says says:

    You will always be my one and only Blues Man It was fun/
    my niece my heart hurts for you and my prayers are always with you just call and I will be there
    Love You Forever
    Aunt Patti

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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………

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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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