My tutor Simon Manfield pointed me towards Jon Schueler in his feedback on my last assignment:
“The American abstract expressionist artist Jon Schueler (1916-1992) experimented with both representational and abstracted imagery and used these two schemes of work collectively to create some beautiful and subtle pieces. In the late 1950s. Schueler was based at the Sound of Sleat near Skye in Scotland. I thought you may find his work interesting, especially with regards his depictions in watercolour of clouds in a landscape.”
I have spent a most rewarding hour looking at Schueler’s work and reading up about him. The quote below describes why the Sound of Sleat became the focus of much of his landscape work.
“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. Here I can see the drama of nature charged and compressed. Lands form, seas disappear, worlds fragment, colors merge or give birth to burning shapes, mountain snows show emerald green. Or, for a long moment, life stops still when the gales pause and the sky clears after long days of careening sound and horizontal rain or snow.” Jon Schueler
I got incredibly excited looking at Jon Schueler’s Sound of Sleat paintings. There is something very bold about taking a landscape obscured by ever changing swirls of mist and cloud and presenting it to the viewer in all its compelling simplicity. But when you study and get into the pictures you realise they are actually intense and detailed, especially in the way the light glows through the cloud. I would love to see some originals to study the brush strokes.
Snow Cloud: Sun and Sleat, 1973, Oil (West Highland Museum)
Sleat, 1973, Oil (Fife Council)
I am also drawn to the simplicity of line in Schueler’s landscapes and the confidence the artist has in putting down a few simple marks to express a wide open landscape with a powerful sense of air and space and atmosphere and (except in the storm pictures) stillness.
The Sound of Sleat: June Night, XI, 1970, Oil, National Galleries of Scotland
Night: The Sound of Sleat, October (Romasaig), 1970, Oil, Paisley Museum and Art Gallery
I cannot ever have enough reminders about how less can be more but it isn’t easy to achieve it of course.
I’ve experienced similar skies and weather on the west coast of Ireland in the winter when the weather can change in minutes from glorious sunshine to white skies full of hail. This ever-changing backdrop to life is fascinating, the best film I’ve ever seen!
An artist friend, Elda Abramson, has been inspired by Ireland’s west coast and she has very successfully captured these kind of ethereal, changing views. Elda is an important person to me because, after a dull decade without much art, she introduced me to drawing with inks and her workshops based around what she calls Zen drawing were inspirational and put me on my current learning path.
I’ve emailed Elda to ask whether she was, by any chance, inspired by Schueler. While both have their own style and work in a variety of different genres, there are fascinating similarities in their west coast landscapes. Both pull together abstract and representational imagery and are very subtle in their use of line and colour.
So thank you Simon for a creating a welcome opportunity for me to reflect on a particular style of landscape painting that it is difficult to tire of. So much is left to the viewer’s imagination. What will be revealed when the mist lifts or the sun rises? How will the landscape look tomorrow?
It takes confidence to know that the clouds and weather can create evocative paintings without much by way of further adornment. I spent last winter moaning about the rain and mist and how it spoilt the landscape views when in fact I may have missed an opportunity!
Further biographical information about Jon Schueler
Jon Schueler was born in Milwaukee in 1916 and studied at the California School of Fine Arts from 1949-51 where his teachers included Clyfford Still and Richard Diebenkorn. In ’51 he moved to New York where Still introduced him to Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko. For a while Schueler’s career progressed in step with the younger members of the legendary New York School: he was taken up by celebrated dealer Leo Castelli and his work began to be collected by public and private collections across America. In 1957 he made his first visit to Mallaig, a fishing village on the west coast of Scotland. On returning to New York, memories of Scotland informed his paintings throughout the 60s. In 1970 he returned to Mallaig where he lived until 1975, and where he spent time each year until his death in 1992. He was essentially an abstract painter, his work not unrelated to that of Rothko or Still, but his subject is always grounded in nature – especially in the light and atmosphere of the Scottish west coast. Schueler’s work has been collected by and exhibited at many distinguished American institutions including the Whitney Museum in New York and the Cleveland Museum of Art.