By Fred Zuzich
With Chassidic Artist, Peretz Schmukler
Hi Peretz, thanks for taking the time to meet with us today,
Tell us about your background?
Peretz: I grew up with my siblings in a very Jewish Chassidic home, with interactive and creative parents, in Montreal, Canada, close to where I now live with my wife and children, G-d bless them.
Although my father is a Rabbi and scribe by profession, he would on occasion convert the dining room table into an overnight artists studio, do oil paintings, portraits, and landscapes. So I grew up seeing art being made. I’m sure that had to have an effect on me. In my youth, my mother, besides for being a most devoted loving mother, made time to get involved in community events like Jewish women's conventions and Jewish theatrical benefit events. My parents nurtured the creativeness of each one of us kids, in our own unique way, say we wanted to make a computer or electrical circuit board, or do construction, sewing, cooking, playing drums and piano, violin, music recording, creative writing and public speaking, gardening, making snowmen, and things like that.
So from a very young age, I was given many opportunities to develop my talents. Growing up like that, I somehow understood that all that music and art was not just for its own sake, but as a part of my life as a proud and happy Jew. This sense of joyful celebration of our God-given life and Jewish identity was clearly the direct influence of Chabad philosophy and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. So over the years, I've been involved in many artistic and musical projects at school and camp and communal artistic works for kids events, like the Lag B’Omer Parades in Montreal and New York. I was also the local drummer boy and played often for kids programs, I also played onstage with the Michael Rubin Orchestra, the Piamentas, as well as a couple of full concerts at the House of Israel with the Kol Simcha Orchestra, Joseph Milo, Yehuda Pinto, and even the legendary Reb Shlomo Carlebach.
What about your formal education?
Peretz: All my schooling was in the Lubavitch educational system. First in Montreal then I continued to the Rabbinical College of America, in New Jersey, where I got my BA in Talmudic studies. Then I was chosen to go to Caracas, Venezuela, and parts of Latin America for a couple of years on a Shlichus Outreach Program as a student Rabbi, helping with Jewish education and community service. I later continued my Rabbinical Education at the Central Rabbinical Yeshiva in 770, Lubavitch world headquarters in New York. I got my Rabbinical Ordination from the Canadian Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Pinchas Hirshprung OBM, in Montreal.
Did you get any formal artistic training?
Peretz: Yes, eventually, but only for Digital and Multimedia Arts; over time my artwork got to be more professional. In 1992, I joined up with some of my peers to create “The Great Jewish Children's Expo” and was the directing artist for the traveling expo with over 120,000 visitors worldwide. Years later in 1998, already married with children, thank God, I attended The Academy of Design in Montreal where I focused on digital arts and animation. Since then, I’ve created musical animated videos, ads and tutorials, websites and branding, and commercial art, as well as “MitzvahTeam”, a 45-minute animated video for kids, that sells in Jewish stores and as a download on menorahmedia.com. But since my youth, drawing has always been one of my favorite art forms. There's a cute story about that on my blog, titled “A Note From A Farbrengen”.
Let's fast forward to today. What does your current body of work aim to say?
Peretz: It says, take the time to notice that you are alive, be grateful and appreciate life, know that life is a godly gift, there is always a bright side, even if it may be hard to see at times, practice trust and faith in God, with gratitude and joy, whenever, as much as possible.
I have to say that my biggest and most important inspiration for these life messages, is Chabad Chassidus teachings, which I love to study on a daily basis.
How does your work comment on current social, political issues?
Peretz: I paint to change the world one painting at a time, one heartfelt message at a time.
Our socio-political landscape needs all the help it can get, so I feel I need to do all I can to up the intake on positivity and meaningfulness in life, by putting forth messages imbued with themes of goodness and joy.
Who are your biggest influences?
Peretz: Well as far as inspiration goes, I’d have to give it to the Rebbe and to the rich Chassidic teachings called Mamarim with a special mention of the Ayin-Beis series, These deep Torah teachings really showed me how to “see” the world and its colors, as God’s Garden of Eden, if we just opened our eyes!
Artistically speaking, I’d have to give it first of all to my dear father. Then I’d say in my youth it was American artist Norman Rockwell for his realism and charm. But in recent years when I started taking painting seriously, I started studying other artists and was impressed by John Singer Sargent and his way of seeing, also french impressionist Oscar-Claude Monet for his color harmony, Van Gogh for his paint strokes, you can find a hint of that in my work, and Pablo Picasso for his boldness and contrast.
How have you developed your career?
Peretz: If you’d ask my mother, I'm sure she’d tell you that in the late 1970’s I already had a sidewalk pop-up art store right in front of our home on Kent Avenue, with my sister as my accountant, we were raking in as much as ten cents a drawing!
The art developed naturally, in school and camp experience. Although as a young kid I was very creative and would have loved to be a professional artist, I never thought I could afford to take it seriously as a full-time career, for fear of being a “struggling” artist. so I focused my efforts on animation and commercial art, as well as teaching and working with youth, something I still continue to do to this day.
So how and when did all that change?
Peretz: I had a dream. Seriously! One winter night in 2013, I had a vivid dream where I was in a busy art gallery with many portraits and paintings selling very well. When I looked at the art in my dream I recognized the art, it was my artwork! Well, let's just say, that dream really woke me up! It got me thinking seriously about selling my art as a career. But my mindset really changed only when I realized that any art I’ve made in the past was still hanging on walls and being appreciated by family and friends, yet the most important deciding factor was the Internet! the fact that I could sell from online, without needing to rent big warehouses and galleries, so the rest, as they say, is history.
What’s next, where do you go from here?
Peretz: Going forward, with God’s help and blessing, the plan is to continue pushing ahead and creating much of the vibrant art, music and animation, that will continue to be seen heard and enjoyed in more and more homes with bright, meaningful, joyful Jewish inspiration.
So it means putting in the hard hours, I try and paint every day. Then creating awareness and doing interviews like this one now, here with you, whatever it takes to get my art out there. Let me put it this way, I feel that every home on the Eretz, deserves to have a Peretz! Sounds good? I guess it was time for a rhyme!
How do you seek out opportunities?
Peretz: Thank God, it’s becoming more and more trendy for individuals and communities to gift my artwork at dinners and charity benefits; all that exposure is great. I can also see the opportunities in pop-up art exhibits, coming soon to a community center near you, God willing.
How do you cultivate a collector base?
Peretz: One satisfied client at a time.
How do you navigate the art world?
Peretz: Like a ship in stormy waters, I keep my eye on my goals and re-adjust my actions as necessary. If I try something and it flops, I’ll just try again and again until I get it right. My name is Peretz, it means to breakout forward, so I keep pushing forward.
How do you price your work?
Peretz: Obviously basic metrics apply; I need to take into consideration the array of art materials used, time devoted, current and long-term market value, demand and rarity. All these things are taken into consideration, so my originals if available, would be more for the art collector or investor, whereas my prints are mostly sold straight from my website and are more for those who just want to get the overall feeling and experience of the piece but at a much more pedestrian price.
Which current art world trends are you following?
Peretz: Besides for the collector world, I do keep my eye on what's trending, online and offline, to make sure that along with the inspiration, I deliver to my customers and fans state of the art quality and workmanship worthy of their appreciation.
Bottom line, what do you want out of your art?
Peretz: My biggest hope is that the moment my art is being viewed, should be a moment of inspiration of joy and happiness, a meaningful moment in time with a heightened awareness of God. My hope is that the resulting mindfulness should affect an increase in acts of goodness and kindness, which will definitely make this world a happier and better place, and a world of good with Moshiach, speedily in our days, Amen.
Amen to that.
Peretz: Thank you for your time. who knows, maybe we'll have a chance to Farbreng, sing and learn together sometime soon. Meantime, if you wanna keep tabs on my art and see what I'm up to, you can check out my website PERETZ.ca