Monday, January 18, 2016

Mapping Memory: Jon Schueler Skyscapes opens at Wallace L. Anderson Gallery

Mapping Memory: Jon Schueler Skyscapes at the Wallace L. Anderson Gallery, Bridgewater State University (BSU) is the inaugural exhibition to mark the Centenary of the American artist, Jon Schueler (1916-1992). Schueler’s commitment to arts education – he was a visiting artist and teacher at the Maryland Institute, Baltimore, the University of Illinois and the Yale University School of Art - makes BSU a particularly fitting venue. The Anderson Gallery's curatorial goal “to establish an environment of learning, enrichment and inspiration with exhibitions that illuminate the direct relationship between the Arts and Ideas,”1 is in keeping with the artist’s own ethos.  This shared vision permeates the exhibition, encouraging both students and visitors to actively participate in the paintings, exploring their own ideas and thoughts, moods and memories in response to the art.

In the artist's studio, Chelsea, New York
Installation shot of Trilogy Changes (A) (o/c 695),  B (o/c 696), C (o/c 697)
now on exhibition at the Wallace L. Anderson Gallery

A selection of seven skyscapes from the 1970s and early 1980s drawn entirely from the artist’s estate, the exhibition includes a rarely seen significant trilogy Changes (A), (B) & (C), 1976. Painted a year after two seminal museum shows for the artist in 1975 - a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art and a three-man show “Landscapes, Interior and Exterior: Avery, Rothko and Schueler” at the Cleveland Museum of Art - this dramatic series embodies a lifetime ambition to capture from memory the evocative and fleeting moods of the sky on canvas.

Schueler’s skyscapes are as fresh and vibrant as the day they were painted. Moving from one painting to the next, we feel compelled to follow the artist’s delicately wistful, yet powerful brushstrokes. They pull us in, through layers of light and shadow, through the sky and beyond. Rich buttery yellows, pulsating reds and soft powdery blues invite us to step into and be consumed by an enthralling transformative world. Everything is moving. Nothing is still.

Taught by Clyfford Still (1904-80), who became the artist’s mentor and briefly by Mark Rothko (1903-70) and Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) at the California School of Fine Arts in 1949 and1950, Schueler went on to actively exhibit in New York within the prevailing vanguard of Abstract Expressionism, with notable solo shows at the Stable Gallery (1954) and the Leo Castelli gallery (1957).  By the mid 1970s, he had been integrated within the art canon as a “Second Generation” Abstract Expressionist of the New York School. However, the artist’s influences were always much more diverse than this category suggests and included literary and musical (especially jazz) figures outside narrow Abstract Expressionist circles.2 

Schueler’s artistic sensibilities were particularly aligned with Romantic landscape artists such as the English painter, J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851). The endless potential of nature and sky as transformative forces for painterly expression was clear to the artist from the time that Still showed reproductions of Turner’s work at art school. The painter’s attention to the ever-changing character of the natural environment and in particular skies, struck a resounding cord with Schueler who increasingly believed that the sky held all things: “The sky gave me the freedom to respond. It changes, shifts, moves, there is no form it cannot become: there is no change that cannot take place. Each moment is its own. It mirrors life’s infinite change, infinite variety, infinite possibility.”3

An all-consuming passion, the sky became the creative force behind a lifetime dedicated to painting landscapes, seascapes and skyscapes in a distinctive style that combined his background in abstraction with his sensory experience of nature. Growing up in Milwaukee, Schueler recalled the impact of the vast and dramatic Wisconsin skies on his formative years. “I remember thunderheads forming over Lake Michigan, when I was a child … The power within the thunderheads, light, cloud, lake sky, beating and throbbing, waves pounding the shore, sky mystery endless – I wanted to be sucked up into it and be part of its power.”4 However, his experience flying as a navigator on bombing missions during World War II had the most profound influence on him. Sitting in a Plexiglas-nose of the B-17 bomber he found a compelling beauty in the skies to equal the horrors: “There in combat and before, the sky held all things, life and death and fear and joy and love. It held the incredible beauty of nature. It was the storm and the enemy gracefully flashing by and the friend waving from the crippled ship. It was the memory of a beautiful woman.”5

Stream of Vapor, 1982 captures the essence of a sky rich in lamenting beauty. As we search for reference points on the horizon, our attempts are stalled by a restless fluidity in the layering of paint – a light gray that covers a dark gray and underneath another gray of an even darker hue. A visual metaphor for the layering of memory, Schueler’s minimal shifts in color palate not only evoke the ethereal nature of recapturing past experience, but imbue the painting with the deep sense of searching. The title suggests a profoundly personal artwork - possibly a reference to his wartime flying experience – without sacrificing its universal appeal. We have all traced the contrails in the sky to conjure up memories of past journeys and forgotten or lost connections. This search motif is enhanced by a positive sense of renewal that delicately winds its way across the painting, in patches of brilliant blue that are in deliberate counterpoint to the layers of gray.

During World War II Schueler met and fell in love with Bunty Challis who served in the American Ambulance Corps in England. In their short but intense relationship, she shared with the artist her experience of the wild and isolated Scottish Highlands.  Bunty and her stories made an indelible impression on Schueler who first visited the remote Scottish fishing village of Mallaig in the winter of 1957-58. He would later leave the States and return to the scenic hamlet in 1970 for a five-year intense period of painting.  Stimulated by the continually shifting Northern skies and turbulent weather conditions of the Western Highlands, Schueler finally found the natural environment to satisfy his artistic ambitions. Surrendering to the isolation, the artist refined his artistic vision with compelling clarity: “When I speak of nature, I speak of the sky, because the sky has become all of nature to me. But it is most particularly the brooding, storm-ridden sky over the Sound of Sleat in which I find the living image of past dreams, dreams which had emerged from memory and the swirl of paint.”6

When Schueler returned to New York in 1975 his mind was fueled with vivid memories of the atmospheric skies of Northern Scotland. During this time of immense creativity, he set to work high up in loft studios first on Jones Street in Greenwich Village, then from 1977 in Chelsea. The New York sky pressing in through every window contributed to his invigorated creative perspective, the interior of the studio providing him with a transformative space that enabled him to get “inside the space. My nose right up against the canvas, losing sight of the edges, of the limitations, trying to feel the lack of boundary, even as the boundary forms the limitless space.”7

Thrilled by the possibility of painting on larger canvases again, Schueler embarked on the trilogy Changes (A), (B) & (C) completed in 1976. The series represents new dimensions, sought during a period of inner creative strength. Schueler recalled:“Before, my paintings seem to me to speak of the violence of motion and emotion. Now that motion is still there but quiet and invisible half the time.”8 Encouraging meditation and wide open to interpretation, the trilogy appears limitless, infused with an ever-changing light and lyricism. The title “Changes” possibly references Scotland’s fluid weather patterns that had become so familiar and vital to the artist.

A highly personal vision, the trilogy seeks to make the invisible visible. It could also be interpreted as a metaphorical search for the restoration of time past through the medium of oil paint. A key concern for the artist was connecting the materiality of the medium with ephemeral experience and emotions. A living thing in itself, hovering effortlessly between nature and artifice as if poised between two worlds, the series invites intense contemplation from within us.

In Search for Oscar, 1983, with the delicate beauty of its palpable blues, is a powerful example of the artist reflecting on memories past to come to terms with loss. In this elegy marking the passing of a close friend and talented jazz musician, Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960), the artist’s graceful brush strokes mirror the bassist’s natural improvised jazz rhythms. For Schueler, painting was necessary for self-preservation. It connected him with the past and reinvigorated his present; the skyscapes attest to his constant search for lost connections and suppressed memories. “My battle is the battle for memory. In the painting, it is finally in the nuance of the brushstroke, in the disturbance of color or the suggestion of line. The moment’s space. It is the poetry about the poetry of paint. This is the area of combat; that is the contrail, which shows where I’ve been and what has happened, for that is the happening.”9

Communicating “the happening” was essential to the artist and the sky paintings on view at BSU certainly speak to this creative force.  Inviting our participation the works are part of an ongoing ever-changing continuum - “windows in the walls”10 - with no beginning or end point. No matter where our eyes move, the paintings move with us to reveal intense momentary compressions of movement and change. Never static, surfaces remain in constant motion, with a single horizon line continuing indefinitely from one canvas to the next, headed towards the sublime.

Schueler well understood the dichotomy that his painting was rooted in. At the same time he embraced nature as part of life’s ongoing continuum, he knew that the painting inevitably subjected this vitality to a fixed form and it is precisely this tension that deeply informs the work: “Change is constant. So is surprise. Once a canvas is finished, the paint is frozen there. Yet, it has a inner life, and as day moves over it it changes.”11 We can trace an inner dimension pulsating through the exhibition; the variations of color, light and mood contingent on the visceral particularity of time and weather, seek to unveil emotional responses within us. Each canvas therefore poses a new opportunity for deep personal contemplation, exploration and interpretation.

Exhibition dates: January 21 - March 24, 2016, please see for further information.

1 Jay Block, Statement of Curatorial Philosophy for the Wallace L. Anderson Gallery, see link:
2 Jon Schueler strove to “accept every painter, from caveman to the present, as a contemporary, to accept or reject them as influences upon my work, not because of their place in art history but because of their effect upon my sensibilities and my mind.” Extract from Jon Schueler The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life, edited by Magda Salvesen and Diane Cousineau, Picador USA, 1999, p.222.
He embraced a vast range of artistic influences within a far-reaching circle of creative friends, making regular trips to Europe studying the work of the Italian Masters Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1475-1564), as well later work by Francisco Goya (1746-1828), J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and Claude Monet (1840-1926). Schueler’s close-knit peer group included artists, musicians and literary figures such as: artist Philip Guston (1913-1980), jazz musician Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960), Scottish poet Alastair Reid (1926-2014) and art critic Irving Sandler (1925- ). 
3“Jon Schueler: An Artist and His Vision”, DVD, 1971. Quoted from an interview with Jon Schueler filmed in Mallaig, Scotland.
4 Jon Schueler, The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life, edited by Magda Salvesen and Diane Cousineau, Picador USA, 1999, p.131
5 Jon Schueler, The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life, op. cit., p.296
6 Whitney Museum of American Art, Jon Schueler, exhibition brochure, April 24 – May 25, 1975. The Sound of Sleat is a narrow sea channel off the western coast of Scotland. It divides the Sleat peninsular on the south east side of the Isle of Sky from Morar, Knoydart and Glenelg on the Scottish mainland.
7 Jon Schueler, The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life, op. cit., p. 280
8 Jon Schueler, The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life, op. cit., p. 202
9 Jon Schueler, The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life, op. cit., p.296
10 Whitney Balliett, Profiles, City Voices: Jon Schueler and Magda Salvesen, op.cit., p.36
11 Whitney Balliett, Profiles, City Voices: Jon Schueler and Magda Salvesen, op.cit., p.51

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jon Schueler "The New York Years 1975 - 1981"

For the American painter Jon Schueler (1916-92) the sky held all things. An all-consuming passion, it inspired a lifetime of painting landscapes, seascapes, and skyscapes. By the mid 1970s the artist was increasingly concerned with the sky as the only appropriate visual metaphor for exploring mood and memory.

The inner dimension of Schueler’s painting pulsates through his New York works on view at the David Findlay Jr Gallery. “Like windows in the walls”[1], the skyscapes seek to unveil deep emotional responses. As our eyes move from canvas to canvas, we feel compelled to follow the artist’s wistful, yet empowered brushstrokes that pull us in, through layers of light and shadow, through the sky to infinity. Participation is inevitable.

[1] Whitney Balliett, Profiles, City Voices: Jon Schueler and Magda Salvesen, The New Yorker, February 25, 1985, p. 36

"Jon Schueler The New York Years 1975 - 1981" Exhibition photo
Photo: Courtesy of Janine Menlove

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Aerial views of Aga Ousseinov

Born in 1962, the Russian artist Aga Ousseinov grew up along the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan (former USSR). Shaped by the expansive seascape surrounding him, Ousseinov dreamed of a different world - far beyond  human limitations - covered in vast uncharted territories ripe for exploration. The artist was equally captivated by the mechanization of the Soviet Union and developed an early interest in airplanes and aviation. Artistic explorations of the relationship between man and the machine also caught his attention and from a young age he was looking at the work of the Italian Futurists, Bauhaus and films such as Sergei Eisenstein's silent movie "Battleship Potemkin" (1925) and Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" (1929).  

His fascination with machines went hand in hand with direct exposure to Cold War militarism. Soviet inventions like the Ekranoplan, fabricated under an utopian rhetoric of progress, had an enduring impact on the artist: Ousseinov became an inventor, his inventions metaphors of flight from the socialist idealism of his childhood.

Now living and working in New York, Ousseinov's curious but utterly enchanting contraptions are deliberately playful. Their success manifests itself in the ambiguity of playfulness verses usefulness. His studio space is covered with objects; a wingless airplane sculpture hovers next to a square globe with traceable four corners, alongside a series of large scale kites affixed to a wall but ready for flight in an instance.  He invites participation and play. Reminiscent of ancient and exotic artifacts, essentially unrealized past inventions, his objects are inspired by Medieval, European and early Oriental scientific diagrams and maps. Taking his inventions one step further, he reinterprets inventions of the past, stripping these objects of their original function so they something quite different through a process of transition -  airplanes grow legs, pilot morph into birds and the world is no longer round. 

Ousseinov's art is delightfully humorous but inevitably reveals an ambivalent nostalgia for an utopian past. His work seeks to explore pressing contemporary issues such as mass consumerism, globalization and progress while simultaneously reaffirming the role of art in facilitating space for imaging the fantastical.

Ousseinov studied at the V. I. Surikov Fine Arts Institute in Moscow and ICP in New York. Since 1991, when he moved to the US, he has practiced as an artist and continues to show his work widely both in the States and abroad. Recent critically acclaimed work includes a collaborative installation with Irina Ryjak in the Azerbaijan Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale and his participation in "OilScapes" at the Peacock Visual Arts Centre, Aberdeen.

A  number of forthcoming shows are in the planning stages for 2015 including a group project Grand Delusions. For further information on the availability of works or to organize a studio visit, please contact me. Ousseinov also has a kite piece on view in an upcoming group paper exhibition at the Show Room Gowanus gallery in Brooklyn, NY from December 12th.

All images "Courtesy of the Artist"
Arctic Landscape (Innocent version), 2012, ink, pencil, bamboo stripes on kozo paper
Landing (Flight), 2006, wood, wire, fabric, papier mache, gesso, pigments
The Aerial View Of My Hometown II, 2014, rice paper and archival paper collage on wooden panel
Brave Old World, 2014, Mixed media, limited edition of 6

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A seminal exhibition by the much-missed photographer John Fasulo

The posthumous exhibit "A Trilogy of Trains: Images from Around the Bend and Across the Sea" currently on show at Hudson Beach Glass until Nov 2nd is a must-see.  An intimate and touching portrait of a lifetime's work, the exhibition is beautifully curated by Fasulo's close friend and photographer, Joseph Squillante.

“The Engineer” Kevin McGarvey © John Fasulo, 1974
Kevin McGarvey, Engineer, Livonia, Avon & Lakeville RR 1974

Fasulo said of this image: “One photograph that has a special place in my heart is simply called, ‘The Engineer’. 
There is a great story about the engineer depicted in the photo; I’ve always thought this photograph personified the American railroad worker.  This past year, 2013, you could say that idea was verified when the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) chose it for the cover of their just published 150-year history of the Union.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Gonkar Gyatso: Pop Phraseology" solo exhibition opens in Hong Kong

This Fall Pearl Lam Galleries Hong Kong presents "Pop Phraseology", a major solo exhibition of new works by the internationally acclaimed Tibetan born artist, Gonkar Gyatso.  Gyatso's personal, political and often humorous work bridges Eastern and Western culture. With a long interest in material and pop culture, the artist often combines references to his Tibetan life with references to the global mass-media culture that is constantly interacting and shaping our current perspectives of cultural identity.  By confronting the undeniable bond between his homeland's religion and politics, Gyatso throws into question what is considered traditional while addressing the many new cultural hybrid identities to which globalization has given rise.

Shangri La, 2014
Mixed Media Collage on aluminum backed honeycomb panel
10 x 10 ft (305 x 305 cm)

Monday, February 17, 2014

When is the Buddha not the Buddha?

Leading contemporary artist Gonkar Gyatso (born Lhasa, 1961) poses this question in Dissected Buddha, 2013, currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Assistant Curator with the Department of Asian Art, Kurt Behrendt's bold decision to include Gyatso's sticker collage work in "Tibet and India: Buddhist Traditions and Transformations" is an enlightened one, and invites a fresh contemporary perspective on the interpretation of the Buddha within the context of the Met's extraordinary collection of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist art.  

The exhibition runs until June 8, 2014 in Gallery 251, for further information about the artist, please contact me here.  A free lecture (with Museum admission) will be held on March 7, 4- 5pm, see here for further details.  The work is a Promised Gift to the Met by Margaret Scott and David Teplitzky.

Gonkar Gyatso, Dissected Buddha, 2013, 
Collage, stickers, pencil and coloured pencil and acrylic on paper.  
Image courtesy of the Artist.

Dissected Buddha presents a compelling contrast to the serene poses of the foundational Buddhist sculpture from the 10th and 11th Century. The viewer is immediately drawn to the central image of the work - a rich surface made up of cartoon stickers, interspersed with magazine and newspaper cuttings that gives form to the Buddha at the moment of enlightenment. However, Gyatso firmly positions his Buddha in the present, successfully juxtaposing the solid mass with a playful hand-drawn background in continuous motion, firmly rooted in the now. Planes, trains and automobiles shoot out from the halo - destination unknown - but carefully offset by a bombardment of urban signage and familiar political iconography all jostling for a position alongside the artist's personal text references to popular culture and politics that preoccupy the mass media and society today.   

Monday, November 18, 2013

Danielle Durchslag: Relative Unknowns Retrospective

I'm delighted to be collaborating on the first New York solo exhibition of rising star artist Danielle Durchslag.  Relative Unknowns will be a comprehensive retrospective of paper collage reliefs based on photographic images of family ancestors whose names and identities have been forgotten over time.  The show opens at Denny Gallery from December 12th, 2013 through January 26th, 2014.  

Works from the Relative Unknown series were originally included in the critically acclaimed exhibition A Cut Above: 12 Paper Masters (see previous post). Since then, Danielle Durchslag's career has gone from strength to strength.  This series has recently been included in various gallery exhibitions and institutions including the Brooklyn Public Library and the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York.   Several major private collections have kindly agreed to loan their Relative Unknown pieces for the show so visitors can enjoy the series in it's entirety.

Please join us for this unique exhibition and opening reception on Thursday, December 12th, 2013 from 6 to 8pm.   Further information and RSVP here.

Danielle Durchslag, Relative Unknown 4, 2011, Paper, tape, glue, vintage board, 12 x 9.25 in