Jon Scheueler: Sound of Sleat Shadows

June 2009

Publication: The Times

The American artist, Jon Schueler, was, by any measure, a prolific painter. By the time of his death in 1992 he had completed around two thousand oils, watercolours and drawings. A small selection of these works, painted between 1974 and 1981, can be seen here. The majority were created in Mallaig where Schueler kept a studio.

 

Schueler’s quantitative achievement is all the more remarkable given the fact that he came to painting relatively late in his career. After serving as a Bomber Navigator with the Air Corps of the US Army Schueler went on to study painting at the California School of Fine Arts where his tutors numbered Clyfford Still.  His war-time experiences were to exert a profound influence on his development as a painter – many of his abstract studies of cloud and light appear as from the perspective of being embedded in the sky itself.

 

Schueler first visited Scotland in 1957 and this sojourn clearly left a marked impression, as his subsequent work was imbued with a sense of light and mood only found in Scotland. In the spirit of Romanticism Schueler formulated his own personal, interiorised philosophical aesthetic based on the ideas which he labelled as of ‘Nature’, ‘Sky’, ‘Woman’ and ‘Death’. This philosophical underpinning is hinted at in titles such as ‘The Search: Deep Blues’ and ‘The Search: Light Leaving’. For Schueler, nature and emotion could never be separated and these works are as much interior reflection as external observation.

 

These paintings are lighter, more delicate and without the sense of foreboding which characterised his work in other periods. The palette comprises blues and purples, with hints and washes of grey and white interspersed with fragments of red, and even yellow. If not buoyant then there are hints of optimism and joy. They seem to reach back into space through light and shadow towards the infinite.

 

 

Schueler’s ‘search’ was undoubtedly an inquiry into the nature of painting itself; however, his quest was also deeply personal as well as metaphysical. Schueler saw his work as a metaphor for nature as well as reflecting an inner sky.

 

 

This small group of paintings - subtle, beautiful and delicate – suggest a mood of contemplation. But they provoke bigger questions about the nature of representation and abstraction and, further, humanity’s place in the cosmos. They are therefore, in all senses, balanced works: exquisitely poised between two worlds, the place which Schueler knew best – emotion and observation.