Obituary: Richard Schnap / Artist, poet and musician who played in early version of The Cynics
December 30, 2016 1:32 PM
The Cynics in July 1985 (from left): Bill Von Hagen, Gregg Kostelich, Amy Mathesius, Michael Kastelic and Richard Schnap.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“For we have no control/over whatever fate/will decide our fortune
All we can do/is leave a clear trail/hoping someone will find it”
-- Richard Schnap, “Roses and Thorns.”
Richard Schnap, who died on Christmas Day at his home in Squirrel Hill at 58, was an intellectual and a creative spirit who left a clear trail of his artwork, music and poetry.
Originally from Buffalo, the Schnap family -- his dad a radiologist and mom a social worker -- moved to Pittsburgh and settled in Shadyside in the early ‘70s. After graduating from Shady Side Academy, Mr. Schnap attended Oberlin and Vassar before coming home to continue his studies at the University of Pittsburgh and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
He entered the Pittsburgh music scene during the early ‘80s punk/New Wave era with a band called Toxic Shock and then joined an early incarnation of The Cynics as a rhythm guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter for one year between 1985 and 1986.
“He was a valuable member of the band when we were doing a lot of Byrds-like originals -- and a Byrds cover or two -- in a period before the first album,” says drummer Bill Von Hagen. “He eventually left the band due to traditional ‘creative differences’ - he was more focused on the type of material that he wrote, and was not a huge fan of the modernized ‘60s garage sound that we were going for.”
While working with musical mates as a telemarketer at Public Interest Communications, Mr. Schnap went on to play in a number of other bands including Graceland, The Shroud and The Side Orders, a melancholy Americana/goth band he shared with longtime partner Alice Winn.
His collage works, which he described as "narrative and poetic renderings of various aspects of our modern world and the current human condition,” were exhibited in such galleries as Garfield Artworks, Gallerie Chiz and Digging Pitt Gallery during the ‘00s. In 2008, Michael “Zombo” Devine presented a retrospective of Mr. Schnap’s work called "Chained Angels" at his Zombo Gallery in Lawrenceville.
“Being a fan of outsider art, it was interesting to meet Richard,” Mr. Devine said. “He had shown up at one of our first shows with a shopping bag full of odd framed black and white and aged magazine and newspaper collages. He was inquiring about renting our space to show his art. I remember him coming in and setting up the entire gallery meticulously on his own without a word. I just let him do whatever he wanted. He was focused and a bit aloof. His art was contained quite a bit of jarring juxtaposition but was a far cry from kitsch.”
Mr. Schnap’s arresting collage work can be found on his website richardschnap.com. His poetry can be found in various literary journals across the web and in two self-published collections, including the chapbook “A Wind From Nowhere.”
In recent years, friends describe him as being reclusive and battling through depression. His parents and sister, who was also a social worker, are deceased. His cause of death is pending.
Mike Shanley, who fronts the bands Bone of Contention and Love Letters, recalls meeting him when he was 18 in the Squirrel Hill record store where original Cynics singer Mark Keresman worked. He says Mr. Schnap, who was in his 20s then, was an inspiration.
“He was almost like an older brother to me. He knew a lot about music and encouraged me to pursue it. He wrote a lot of really good songs -- songs that were really catching with really smart lyrics.”
“He was such a kind person,” said Corinne Price, a longtime friend, who recalls that he would take a cab to deliver his mom a New York Times each Sunday morning. “So creative and talented in his visual art, his poetry, his music. Such an interesting person to have a conversation with, whether it was a heart-to-heart or an exchange of ideas.”
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg