Ivan Schwebel

Auschwitz arrival platform / The Bronxs Three Sewer Hitter
Oil on canvas, 1992
126 x 98 cm / 38″ x 50″


Born in West Virginia, October 29, 1932, then raised until six in Cochran, Georgia. A divorce bought my mother, my two older sisters and I to the Bronx, Gates Place, opposite Van Cortland Park, where I was raised until breaking out to play baseball, study acting and go to the army during the Korean War. I hardly ever saw my father who had substituted his Yiddish-Polish accent for a southern drawl very quickly. People actually paid to hear my accent when I was 6.

At 19, The US Army was like a grant for me. I was sent to Japan when the war ended in Korea. There, after telling an officer some nonsense about my journalistic experience, I spent almost two years in Public Information. Japan thrilled me. It awakened talents that lay buried for several years. I began to paint and managed to study with a Zen master-painter, Kimura Kyoen in Kyoto. “Study” is incorrect. The man loved me, even showed my work in a giant temple because my black and white brush drawings contained nothing of traditional art. It did have the excitement achieved when one draws without preconception. The Army kept giving me leaves to be rid of me. I often lived in a Buddhist temple run by an woman priestess whom I loved. A painting of her and I is in “Models”.

I returned to N.Y. considering myself a painter but was frightened to just do it, so with the GI Bill I went to New York University. There I met Philip Guston who told me it’s best not to teach painting because it could waste you. Therefore I studied art history while painting at night. After the B.A. I went on to the Institute of Fine Arts for three years. I quit just before my M.A.

I left N.Y. to get my son from the my wife’s Greek family in Sparta. I failed to achieve this so I bounced around Europe for a year. I came to Israel in the winter of ’63 and have remained ever since. My hillside home and studio in the outskirts of Jerusalem was found immediately, as was another wife. After ten years we had two children. My wife died in 1989. I since remarried, making two more children.

I have actually taught drawing, very recently for two years, convinced by my wife to do so because “there are beautiful girls there”. What soon occurred was that I grew fond of the youth of Israel, kids back from the hell of military service. I got fired because I gave everyone a 97 regardless, except one. He got 98 because he brought two bottles of wine to our end-of-year party. I made them 3 big exhibitions of their works on hate and the torments of the times to insure they knew about the serious potentials of painting.

Yearly I and family visit N.Y. for a short spell. In the early 90’s I even took a loft on 20th Street, painted and managed to pay expenses through the sale of paintings. However, the scuds of the Gulf War and the births of our children made trips impossible. Had I an agent, perhaps I would have maintained it. But I have not met the agent or gallery that could sell Houdini self-liberating while suspended over Canal Street, or the Bronx stick-ball three sewer hitter, especially since my work fits no popular style or fashion. And who’s to handle David fighting Goliath on Times Square?

Schwebel died in 2011.