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‘Flying Carpets’ Paintings At Wesleyan University

Hartford Courant:
Screenshot_2019-12-07 'Flying Carpets' Paintings At Wesleyan University
From the "Flying Carpets" series by David Schorr, now on exhibit at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery on the Wesleyan University campus in Middletown. (Courtesy Wesleyan University Center for the Arts)

David Schorr spent his childhood flying on magic carpets, and he is remembering those days in a new exhibit at Wesleyan University.

The carpets were in his grandmother's home in Chicago. She liked Persian rugs, unlike Schorr's parents, whose beige wall-to-wall carpeting did nothing for his imagination.

Schorr, who is now 70, would keep his toys at grandma's and spend day after day sitting on the Persian rugs playing with his toys, his imagination running wild.

"When a child is at play, there are no rules from adults, there is no gravity, no geography, no time. You make your own rules and laws," Schorr says. "When you're a kid, a car can fly. That made me think, why can't the carpet fly, too?"

The pieces in Schorr's exhibit — in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery on the Middletown campus — defy the laws of gravity. Persian rugs fly, and so do the toys on them: cars, trucks, motorcycles, roadsters, race cars, delivery vans, firetrucks, tankers, airplanes, trains, taxis. Even the patterns on the carpets seem to break away from the carpet and fly in the air, sometimes in organized formations, sometimes scattering wildly.

No children are in sight in Schorr's works. The viewer in the gallery is the child.

"I really wanted to present the power of a child's imagination when he or she is at play," Schorr says.

Schorr, a Wesleyan professor who divides his time between Middletown and Manhattan, hadn't thought about his grandmother's carpets for years, until a few years ago when he saw an online auction catalog. Among the offerings was an antique toy trolley car.

"It started me remembering the street cars in Chicago, the wooden ones with wicker seats, which have disappeared," he says. "Then I remembered I would play on grandma's rugs with my yellow toy truck."

That memory triggered other memories. "One thing just unlocks something else, and that unlocks something else."

That kicked off his flying carpets series. Over the years, he has bought a lot of ratty old Muslim prayer rugs. He likes their asymmetricality — each one has a prayer niche on one side for facing Mecca — and the fact that they're not made just for decoration. He also has amassed quite a collection of antique toys to use as models for his artworks.

He also collected old coffee cans, and many of these made their way into his paintings, too.

"The adults were drinking coffee when I was on the rug playing," he says. "There was a genie on the coffee can. Lots of coffee cans at that time had Arabic images on them. I made the connection: Persian rug, Arabic coffee."

In the Zilkha's north gallery is a spectacular complement to Schorr's gouache and silverpoint on linen paintings. A massive wooden framework is topped by 20 rugs, which are covered with antique toys, like one of Schorr's paintings come to life.

"All of my work is elegiac of childhood gone. A lot of people don't give themselves the chance to do that. We are encouraged to think about troubled childhoods but not happy ones," he says. "As one gets older, things become freer in your life and you're a little freer to be sentimental."