Saturday, December 15, 2012

Semitic Philoxenia

Knowing that he was a native New Yorker, when he arrived at the Selahattin Doha Resort and Spa his Qatar hosts had a royal breakfast of bagels and lox awaiting him at his hotel suite.

David was stunned by the warmth of his reception. He had heard about the Middle Eastern culture of hospitality but nothing prepared him for the warmth and generosity that he experienced from the moment he landed at Doha International. One of the many photojournalists who were on hand at his arrival captured a shell shocked Schoffman standing beside a larger than life bust of the "founder of the modern Qatari State" the one-eared Daoud ibn Asad.

He was there as a visiting fellow at the Institute of Western Asian Arts and was expected to deliver the closing lecture at the annual  Doha Conference on Color and Colonialism. That he felt like a pawn in a political kabuki goes without saying. David knew from bitter experience that whenever the word "colonialism" is used in a public or academic context, the best course is to swiftly make for the (uncontested and unoccupied) hills.

His talk included references to Gerome's trip to Jerusalem, Delecroix's sojourn in Morroco and Renoir's obsession with Algeria. He discussed Matisse and Ingres and analyzed in depth their depiction of regional stereotypes. 

Solomon Wall, Jean Leon Gerome, 1863

The Sultan of Morocco and His Entourage, Delacroix, 1854
Odalisque, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1870

Matters became a bit thornier when Schoffman devoted the latter part of his talk to the complicated issue of  Judicum Giacomo Ghazi. Lesser known than his contemporary Phillipe Ahmar but by no means less colorful, Ghazi's story, though undeniably loaded, was nonetheless extremely germane.

Portrait of Judicum Giacomo Ghazi, Faun Roberts, 1931
Born just outside the city of Jubail in eastern Saudi Arabia in 1873, little is known about his early life other than his date of birth. He came from a family of gulf fishermen and spice merchants. Some scholars claim that he was a descendant of Nestorian Christians, basing their claim on some dubious, possibly forged documents. Others insist that he was the great-grandson of the mufti of Ha'il. What everyone agrees upon is his notorious apostasy.

Around the turn of the 20th century Ghazi was sent by the Emir of Buraydah on a vague diplomatic mission to Estonia and Lithuania. What was supposed to be a four week excursion turned into four years. When he finally returned to the Arabian Peninsula he had two small children and was married to the niece of the chief rabbi of Ostrog.

It didn't take long for him to figure out that western Europe might be a more hospitable environment and in around 1904, penniless and disgraced, he moved with his family to Paris. He quickly fell in with le bande de Picasso, enjoying a life of artistic bonhomie, promiscuity and antic subversion. 

from left to right, Cocteau, Jacob, Kisling, Gros, Picasso and in the back with the moustache, Judicum Giacomo Ghazi
 The audience at the Color and Colonialism conference were not particularly impressed with David's scholarship. When he reached his conclusion (some vague point about the reciprocal lure that the West had on the artists and intellectuals of the Arab world) he was greeted with a muted tremor of polite applause.

The next morning for breakfast he was served pancakes and fruit .


Friday, December 07, 2012


Most people don't realize and fewer seem to care that my ingenious colleague David Schoffman holds the United States patent on the Hackle-T:150. (The EU patent is held by an ertswhile mutual friend who shall remain nameless pending the outcome of some numbingly complex litigation - [but let's face it, how much fly fishing do they do in Luxembourg?])

Hackle-T:150 working drawing, David Schoffman, 2004

According to the fly fishing periodical of record, Buzz Tembault's Reel View, the Hackle-T:150 is used as a primary hook by 48% of regular and semi-regular casters. Impressive numbers but what is even more impressive is that this tiny little invention provides a handsome nest egg for David and his family. 

Now I'm not counting his money but between his thriving stature within the cozy, unregulated art market and his yearly residuals from the Brown Trout set, David needn't worry about the high cost of cadmiums.

And yet, my generous friend still devotes a significant portion of his time to what the Americans call, "giving back." (Interestingly, in France we do not have an equivalent expression, the closest I've come up with is "├ętant une ventouse"). 

I am speaking of course of David Schoffman the teacher.
Schoffman conducting a drawing workshop, Los Angeles, 2012

On any given day, one might find David lecturing an avid auditorium of graduate students on the fine points of late Renaissance Venetian printmaking or conducting a marathon life drawing workshop for a grubby mass of heavily pierced teenagers or demonstrating the delicate finesse of watercolor painting to an eager claque of retired senior citizens.

 One might reasonably ask 'why does he do it'?. Can one man be so benevolent and selfless?  Is this measureless bounty of munificence legitimately heartfelt?

There are several theories floating around the art world addressing this enigma. One suggests that Schoffman's charity is an endless act of expiation, a perpetual atonement for some mysterious malfeasance of his misspent youth. Another posits the theory that David's Molochian appetite for adoration and attention is scarcely satisfied by his accomplishments and therefore his ego demands constant and renewable nourishment. Still others insist that the chump change he earns from his teaching gigs is squirreled away, supporting a series of serragli of coast to coast mistresses.

Having known the guy for nearly 40 years, I believe it is simply a matter of attention deficit. Schoffman is constitutionally incapable of spending long, lonely hours in his studio. Now that his career is firmly established and the demand for his work seems endless he is able to consign most of the hard labor of putting paint on canvas to a small battalion of underpaid assistants. Since he himself does not fish - as far as I know, David is ambivalent to lakes, rivers and anything else that falls loosely under the catagory of Nature - he has to do something with his time.

The Body is his Book #99: One-Hundred Paintings. David Schoffman (and his workshop) 2012

Monday, December 03, 2012

Le Cri des Gloires

The Garland's Struggle Sketchbook, date unknown. David Schoffman. very (private collection)

After the fire, so little of his work survived, what remained among the rubble was quickly collected, cleaned and stashed away in a secure Adler and Co. vault in Zurich. Oddly, a full inventory was never officially recorded. An uncomfortable mystery still surrounds both the circumstances of the fire and the immediate aftermath. What is clear is that since September of 2010 a small trickle of heretofore unknown works by my good friend David Schoffman have appeared on the market and have been sold at ridiculously high prices.