The portrait of an older artist


The snipping sound of scissors cutting paper could be heard faintly. The sun poured sunlight through the living room’s large windows, drenching the white wall covered in bright red, blue, yellow, gray and purple abstract pictures and casting a sensual silhouette on charcoal paintings sitting on a table in front of neatly organized notebooks.

It was a quiet afternoon for visual artist Maxwell Schwartz, and at age 94 he takes his quiet days as an opportunity to create visual art or write poetry. Nowadays, he spends his afternoons writing free-verse poems on the topics of his choice. Writing poetry is another creative outlet he’s been exploring since last fall.  He became more motivated to write poetry after the Art Times published his poem “Mother Nature” last December. The publication is a quarterly commentary and resource for the fine and performing arts.

Since then he’s infused his comic drawing skills and his newfound love for poetry to ink poems on Donald Trump, personal experiences, birthday wishes for his family and the occasional autobiographical pieces. The 1922 born Far Rockaway native has been living in Freeport for the last 52 years and has lived a career full of creative titles and experiences — portrait painter, magazine illustrator, abstractionist, graphic designer, art director, type director, account executive, ad agency owner, comic book illustrator, cartoonist, raconteur, architectural renderer, and in the last seven months he’s become a writer and author.

“I was able to draw very well because instead of going out to play baseball, football and basketball like my brother, I was home drawing portraits from the movie magazines. I was 13 years old,” Schwartz said. “When I was six or eight, I could draw Popeye from memory. At different [family] parties, they’d say, ‘Mac, can draw Popeye?’ and I was like the star drawing Popeye from memory.”

Though it wasn’t always this serene, Schwartz often romantically reminisces of his early artist days. Affectionately, he recalls a summer his grandmother got him a job working with Bob Kane, the creator of the famous Batman comic. He commuted from his home in Far Rockaway to the Bronx, at 16 years old, to spend a couple of weeks of his summer break to ink and letter pages for the comic. He recalls the time working for Kane as a learning experience that opened the art world for him. Before that summer, he had spent a bulk of his time drawing and experimenting, but once he discovered he could make art and get paid for it, he was hooked.

“I saw how things, with Batman, were starting,” said Schwartz. “Kane had just started Batman, and he had his writer who also collaborated, Bill Finger – the king of comic book writers. These were summer jobs, and I remained in the comic book industry until I enlisted in World War II, December of 1942, in the Army Air Corps.”

After the war, Schwartz sought formal art education to continue where he left off before heading out to war. He initially made efforts to attend Pratt Institute, but because of a long line and a yearlong waiting list, he walked over to the Art Students League of New York in Manhattan. Within in minutes, he was registered to start classes. During his time, there he studied all things art under the direction of the world-renowned painter and illustrator Frank J. Reilly.

Though he recalled his days as a student at the Art Students League as the happiest time of his life, he admits his first hand at painting was disastrous, but it was his time at the League that challenged him as an artist

“I couldn’t paint yet. I was drawing great, but I could not paint,” Schwartz said.  “I just didn’t get it, and Frank Reilly was the instructor. I consider myself really lucky [to have studied under him]. It wasn’t until the second year that everything pulled together. When I got out of the League, I did portraits.”

Finding work as an art renderer and an illustrator with magazines like Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and more kept him busy. Eventually, in 1954, Schwartz married and moved to Freeport to raise his three children. Despite the minor stint in the early 1950s he experienced as a visual artist, when photography became the latest innovation to capture portraits and having to start a family, Schwartz says he found ways to continue his work in the art and design fields. He took graphic designing classes and started working as an art director with ad agencies. His artwork allowed him to work with architects and interior designers by drawing art renderings and blueprints.  He also dabbled in creating furniture and found success in starting his own business— an ad agency, Render Art Advertising in Baldwin.

“I didn’t like for a boss. I was fed up with working for bosses. So I finally opened my own and was pretty successful,” said Schwartz who ran his agency for 30 years.

Now, almost 30 years into his retirement, he spends his time creating to simply create—creating at his pace and exploring shapes, colors and designs however his heart desires.  Calling himself a new writer, Schwartz, says writing is another way he can creatively express himself, and he’s excited by the pieces he’s written.

“On my 94th birthday in November, I started to write poems. It was like an epiphany. I wrote so many poems. I must have written 50 or 60 poems. I have a whole collection,” he said.

He said he doesn’t have specific goals for his poems or his artwork, but as he continues to create a catalog of poetry and additional art pieces. He hopes he can sell some of his work or even get published, again — one day.

Taking a break from his work, he walked toward the front door. “I walk like an old man,” he chuckled as he stepped outside for some air. Once he gets back to his desk, he would occupy himself with his next creation, whether it be a poem or a comic drawing.