Interview with Sidney Hurwitz

As a young mother many years ago I studied oil painting with Sidney Hurwitz at the Decordova Museum School. He tells me now that this was his first teaching position. He was an excellent teacher, and I was thrilled when he included my painting of an umbrella in a student show.  It was the first time any work of mine had been exhibited.

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The following is his very impressive biography:

Sidney Hurwitz was born in Worcester, MA, in 1932.  He studied at the School of Worcester Art Museum, received her B.A. from Brandeis, and his M.A. from Boston University. He continued his studies under a Fulbright Fellowship at Stuttgart Academy of Art and Skowhegan School. He later taught at Wellesley, Brandeis and Amherst College, and is presently Professor Emeritus at Boston University where he was on the faculty for thirty years.

He has won many prestigious awards including a Fulbright Fellowship, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Prize, and a fellowship from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. He is a member of the National Academy of Design and has participated in solo and juried exhibits both here and abroad.

His work is in many public and private collections including The Museum of Modern Art, The Boston MFA, The Library of Congress Print Collection, The Boston Public Library, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and The Krakow National Museum.

PAT:  Are you still actively engaged in print making? If so, do your printmaking methods continue to be wood cut, intaglio and hand colored aquatint?

SIDNEY:  I am still working primarily in the medium of etching, some with aquatint and additional hand coloring and more recently black and white.

PAT:  In reviewing a group exhibit in which you were a participant, Mark Jenkins of the Washington Post claimed that, “Architecture has a natural affinity with printmaking.” Was this basically your reason for choosing this medium of expression for your depiction of old factories, bridges, elevated trains, and steel mills?

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Bethlehem Steel

SIDNEY:  My interest in industrial and urban architectural imagery probably began while growing up in Worcester surrounded by industry. At 19 I did some woodcuts of three- deckers and railroad yards near my house. as well as paintings of Worcester commercial buildings. After a number of years working with figural imagery i returned to industrial and urban images when living in London in 1973 where I became interested in structures from the Victorian era. I have continued that interest since.

PAT:  Did you realize at the time that you were often portraying elements of a dying landscape?

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The Orange Line   Boston

SIDNEY:  It became apparent to me that the structures and forms I found interesting were in many cases older and soon to be obsolete. I think earlier industrial forms such as bridges and steel mills were more formally complex from a design point of view compared to modern structures. I inadvertently, in many cases, documented a bygone industrial era without consciously being aware of it.

PAT:  Has your working process changed in any way?

SIDNEY:  Not in the last several decades. I introduced hand coloring in the early 80’s.

PAT:  In an essay about you by art historian Patricia Hills, she says you have captured “the portrait, landscape, and still life of the industrial age.” Is this an adequate description of what you feel you have achieved?

SIDNEY:  That is a fairly appropriate interpretation although the structures I depict have to have compositional elements of light and form to my liking. The historical aspect is always secondary to the formal ones. I like to to think that they exist on abstract terms while being descriptive.

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The Cement Factory

PAT:  Do you think you are presently doing your best work? If not, is there some period you would identify as one in which you did your best work?

SIDNEY: In recent years I have slowed the pace of working I suppose due to advanced age and physical limitations. I think my most productive times were in the late 80’s and through the 90’s although I’ve done some things I like in the past decade.

PAT:  Have there been times when you couldn’t work for one reason or another?

SIDNEY:  While travelling and during my years as head of the art school at B.U. were less productive times.

PAT: Since your work is in a number of galleries and museums, do you still find it necessary to promote it yourself?

SIDNEY:   I’ve never been a great promoter of my work and hope that others will assume that responsibility. Printmaking is a rather specialized field in the world of art commerce being less lucrative than painting and sculpture and the nature of my work is not everyone’s cup of tea.

PAT:  Do you feel as if your age works against you in the marketplace?

SIDNEY:   It can work both ways, I think. People can be more receptive if one has a history but there is always the search for new talent. Not something I worry about.

PAT:  Do you continue to travel to industrial sites in Europe such as you did in 2002 to Duisberg, Germany?

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Duisberg – Thyssen

SIDNEY:  Much less traveling than in the past. A year ago I spent some time in Bristol, England and am working on some images from the port.

PAT:  Do you have the same level of ambition?

SIDNEY:   Certainly not in comparison to one’s starry-eyed youth. I guess I’m comfortable with the body of work I have done.

PAT:  At this time in your life are you ever tempted to work in other ways or in different mediums?

SIDNEY:  I’ve been encouraged many times to reinvent but so far have resisted.

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