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Around the galleries

Jon Schueler’s visions of sky and sea

— October 2012

Associated media

Jon Schueler, Fantasy:  Light Near Rhum, 1972, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 ins Photo credit:  Jeffrey Sturges ©Jon Schueler Estate

Victoria Keller finds Scottish skies in the heart of New York

In 1970, the American painter Jon Schueler, then living on the northwest coast of Scotland in the fishing village of Mallaig, wrote:

During the three-week warm spell of this year's June, the haze formed over the Sound of Sleat, more intense each day.  One late afternoon, I was walking down from Mallaig Vaig, looking southwest over the harbor and out to sea.  There was no telling where the sea ended and the sky began; it was all a mysterious haze white, pulsing with the northern summer light....

(The Sound of Sleat, Jon Schueler, New York, 1999)

Jon Schueler (1916–92), spent the Second World War as a bomber navigator in the US Army Air Force, flying missions over Germany.  After the war he trained in California with Clyfford Still and Richard Diebenkorn, moving to New York City and becoming associated with the Abstract Expressionists and the Leo Castelli Gallery.

Jon Schueler first visited Mallaig in the winter of 1957/8, looking for the sky he knew he needed to paint.  He returned in 1970 and stayed there for a five-year period of concentrated painting.  The David Findlay Jr. exhibition in September focused on this period, in which Schueler immersed himself in the vision of sky and sea (and sometimes the hint of nearby islands such as Rhum and Eigg ) on canvas sizes that ranged in size from 6 x 8 inches to truly massive. They all focused on the luminous nature of the sky’s  meeting with the sea.

The paintings on show at 499 Park Avenue's Lobby Gallery date from 1978 to 1985.  Most of these were painted in his New York City loft, but one was painted in Edinburgh University's Talbot Rice Art Gallery (which has very high ceilings), as part of a show created there, on site, to be seen there, still smelling of the oil paints the artist used.  These are enormous paintings of the sky, full of the shifting effects of light and cloud.

Phyllis Braff points out that Schueler's teacher in California, Clyfford Still, introduced him to the ‘ephemeral cosmic effects’of J.M.W. Turner.  This, allied to his experience flying in the Plexiglass nose of a B-17 bomber during the war,  gave him the impetus to turn from the abstraction he initially professed to the luminous paintings of sky and sea in these two exhibitions. Catch the one at the Lobby Gallery at 499 Park Avenue while it is on.



Victoria Keller
New York

Media credit: Photo credit: Jeffrey Sturges ©Jon Schueler Estate

Editor's notes

Jon Schueler: The Mallaig Years 1970–75, with essay by Phyllis Braff, was produced to accompany the exhibition at David Findlay Jr. Gallery, New York, 5–29 September 2012
Jon Schueler's Song with essay by Mary Ann Caws was produced to accompany the exhibition at
499 Park Avenue/The Lobby Gallery and Hines, July 7 2012– January 4, 2013

A book about the artist's work, Jon Schueler The Sound of Sleat was published by St Martin's Press in 1999, ISBN 978-0312200152

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