Review by Christopher Dow
The big, hardbound books sitting on the two stools next to the painting table in Charles Schorre’s studio seem to tell the story. They are closed, just as Schorre’s life has closed, but like the table, they are spattered with paint—hinting at the volumes of art Schorre left behind. And, perhaps, the volumes unfinished. The book chronicling his life and art, titled simply Charles Schorre, is a case in point. Although it was not initiated as a retrospective or memorial, it became both when Schorre, who worked until his final days, died during its creation.
Charles Schorre (Herring Press and the Houston Artists Fund, 1997) is a companion to a major exhibition of the artist’s work that opened last spring in Corpus Christi and will travel to other locations in Texas during the next year and a half before eventually coming to Houston. Edited by Jerry Herring, the book generously samples Schorre’s diverse output and contains essays and remembrances by many of his colleagues, associates, students, and admirers. It also includes a number of articles about Schorre and his work, an interview, and a short piece by the artist himself.
Decades of art reviewers and critics praised Schorre’s work for its uninhibited freedom, its constant freshness, and its superb craftsmanship. “Charlie’s work flowed out of him in so many conscious and unconscious ways,” Herring writes. “He managed to get most 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, two-and-a-half-room work space were coated with the energy of his mind.”
Charles Schorre was born in Cuero, Texas, in 1925. He married Margaret Storm and moved to Houston in 1948, where he worked in advertising and graphic arts. He also began producing fine arts. Rather than follow either regionalism or modernism and abstract expressionism, Schorre went his own way. “Very early in his career, [he] made a decision . . . to stay interested in many things,” writes Jim Edwards, director of the Weil Gallery and lecturer of art at Texas A&M. “[His] career as an artist . . . was a natural avocation of his living rather than an occupation that was specialized, and somehow separate, from the other aspects of his life.”
Early in his career, Schorre produced a number of works depicting semiabstract crucifixes, which caused him to be labeled a religious painter, but for Schorre the form was transformational as much as it was religious, to be found throughout nature. Over the years, his work itself also transformed, deepening and broadening as it encompassed drawing, illustration, collage, photography, and painting. The latter ranged from representational work to chromatically hot abstractions to more formalized nudes. His photo-collage work includes the Artist’s Handbook, which contains photographs of many people who passed through his life, some readily identifiable, some not. Among the more famous are Edward Albee, Andy Warhol, and Donald Barthleme, but in a handwritten note, Schorre proclaims, “If these pages are ever published as a book . . . I would not use a person’s name especially if she/he is a superstar. We are all superstars if we are doing it! Right? Yes!”
Schorre’s work received kudos from the critics and awards as well. The Society of Illustrators, the International Typographic Society, the Watercolor Society, the Art Directors Club of New York, and the American Institute of Graphic Artists all gave him awards. One of his books, Architecture at Rice 24, Life Class, which featured student drawings and photos juxtaposed with Schorre’s own photographs and writing, was included in the American Institute of Graphic Arts national exhibition “Fifty Books of the Year.”
Schorre was also a great teacher. Formal settings where he assisted emerging artists included the Museum of Fine Arts School (now the Glassell School of Art) from 1948 to 1955 and Rice University’s School of Architecture from 1960 to 1972. Hired to teach Rice architecture students to render people, trees, and automobiles, he quickly expanded the curriculum to include poetry, music, photography, and life drawing. His was a popular class, and he inspired a whole generation of Rice architects, artists, and photographers. Geoff Winningham, a celebrated photographer and professor of art at Rice, credits Schorre with encouraging him to expand his awareness of photography as an art form and with giving him new perspectives on the medium.
“It has been said,” Winningham writes, “that education at its best finally comes down to a teacher and a student, to the personal communication of knowledge and passion for a subject. That is the kind of education that I experienced with Charles Schorre, and that is why I treasure the memory of the man.”
This review originally was published in the fall 1997 issue of Sallyport: The Magazine of Rice University.