The American Artist (1933-2009) Max Shertz, creator in multiple mediums: painter, sculptor, writer, poet and teacher, was viewed by art critics and collectors as a Modern Artist, an Abstract Expressionist and a Contemporary Painter. The artist himself distrusted the motives of those who tried to label the style of his work and felt very strongly that his work should and would speak for itself without the need for context or explanations.
Shertz was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933. At 17 he joined the Marines. After returning from Korea he studied at the Arts Students League of New York. He studied during this time under Hans Hofmann as well as apprenticing under Raphael Soyer, who would later become his close friend.
He then moved to Hollywood and lived with his uncle, neurosurgeon Daniel Weller, and his wife, columnist writer Helen in Hollywood. Their influence got him involved with show business, where he was an agent and television actor. He met his first wife, Edi at this time, but was disillusioned with show business and decided to leave Hollywood to completely devote himself to painting.
Upon his return to New York, Shertz became friends and worked closely with many of the important artists of his time including Boris Deutsch, Phillip Guston, Lee Krasner, William de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Diebenkorn, the Soyer brothers and many others.
He was also stylistically influenced by Andre Masson, the father of the expressionist movement, the German expressionists, Picasso, Klee, Matisse and the figurative work of Max Beckman.
As an emerging talent of the modern art scene of the sixties and seventies, Art in America said of Shertz's work in 1972:
“I have followed this talent closely for a number of years, carefully appraising the obvious good taste, sincerity, elegance and distinction seen in the painted results. Improvisation enters strongly into his paintings with lyricism and line of color poetically aligned while a rhythmic movement throughout prevails. The paintings are invariably enhanced with color, luminosity and the sparkle of paint handling that is frequently startling and
impressive. Viewed were oil and pastel on paper, a medium that seems to have been willed into the hands of its creator. Mr. Shertz bears constant watching lest we miss a superb young stylist whose destiny is secure in the hands of posterity.”
And The Herald Tribune wrote in 1973:
“In examining the art of Max Shertz it is important to mention the evident personal quality of his style. In general, painters strive for this characteristic in their work and many achieve it to varying degree. Yet the major portion of the art product is oft times too reminiscent of earlier greats. Not so here. Dynamic would describe his color harmony and on close scrutiny this style and touch are totally unique, if one is permitted to take liberty with the word. The result here seems to have a ‘newness’ and a privacy about it that refreshes.”
From the early 70’s to late 80’s, Shertz lived in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco with his wife Edi, and also his mistress and muse, Christiane, along with the five children that he had with the two of them, all under one roof.
During that time, he had successful galleries on both coasts, many private and public shows, as well as works represented in museums.
In the early 80’s, at the height of his success, the artist grew disenchanted with what he saw as the commercialization and commerce of the art world, and walked away from galleries, collectors and critics.
The artist, needing the solitude necessary to do his work, decided to be reclusive for the rest of his life.
Shertz was not by nature reclusive but reclusion offered him a fundamental necessity for him to survive as an artist. There was not only the distraction of selling paintings but also the distraction of his entourage.
This self-imposed isolation was not easy for Shertz because he was a people person and people loved being around him, watching him create. He was a raconteur, with his studio filled with people, day and night through the years.
In its natural evolution, the artist’s work reached new dimensions in the early 90’s with his “Art of the Unconscious”, the process of which he translated into words in a series of essays titled “Frontiers of Ecstasy”.
His friend, the late Henry Hopkins who was the director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and one of the few people from the art world that Max let see his work from the 90’s said:
“Max Shertz and his art of the unconscious takes Automatism and Abstract Expressionism to a new dimension making a breakthrough in 20th century art.”
During this time, Shertz said of his work:
“This society is wrong for me as an artist, and I cannot remain unaffected. Artists now reflect the culture of consumerism and never challenge it. When art sinks to the level of merchandise, it loses the greater part of its truth, and then loses its purity and its essence.”
“There is great evidence from the past that art is prologue and that fine art is always a movement outward from within and catches even the flickering light and exposes the slightest glimmer in a vast gulf of darkness. For half a century, I have created while searching and exploring my inner creator. Within those fifty years, I have been surrounded by those reasoned conscious so-called works of art done from the outside in, art done for economic purpose, art that is conceptual and art that is sentimental and sanctimonious.”
“Art is simplicity, purity and truth. True art comes from a source unknown to the mind, is a gift coming through you, your Unconscious.”
“A true artist never repeats himself and is always recognized.”
Shertz's wish was not to be compared to other artists, or gauged by financial success or the praise of critics and collectors. He felt his work should be viewed without judgment, comparison or attachment of any kind, but with an open heart and the desire and will to take a journey into this artist’s creations.