Objectively Subjective

New paintings and assemblages by Robert Schlegel span a broad emotional range

Robert Schlegel titles an exhibit of his recent work running at Eugene’s Karin Clarke Gallery Objective Shapes, suggesting the existence of an artistic and emotional distance between the artist and his subject. But these paintings don’t have the cool, intellectual perspective that the title implies. Instead they combine a range of emotions, from light-as-air whimsy to a down-to-earth broodiness — sometimes in the very same works.

The show includes a range of paintings and small three-dimensional works that create an artistic counterpoint for the gallery goer.

Schlegel, who has exhibited regularly with Clarke, lives and works in Banks, a small town in the northwestern corner of Oregon. In past shows, he’s exhibited work that was produced on location; this time around, it’s all work from his studio — inspired by childhood memories and his wonderfully quirky imagination.

Anchoring the exhibit is a series of imposing paintings titled “American Foursquare”; the large acrylic on canvas works come from his childhood memories of the Foursquare churches that his grandmother attended. 

Some of these paintings are dark and brooding; they are the first thing I saw when I entered the gallery, and held my attention the whole time I was there. Others, just as large, are bright, colorful and almost flippant in tone; these feel like lively spices thrown into a darker stew.

Those big, captivating paintings are echoed in a series of small three-dimensional works, something like doll houses, that sit on pedestals around the gallery. About a foot tall, thrown roughly together like quick 3D sketches, the little houses are nearly as compelling as the large paintings in the “Foursquare” series. One even has Dr. Anthony Fauci peering out a window. I’ll let you discover which house that is on your own.

The seemingly casual quality of the houses’ construction invites that old art world curse to well up in your brain — “My kid could do that!” — just as a deeper thought overrides that simplistic one: “How did he manage to do this so well?” I’d love to know.

The lightest and airiest of the works here are portraits. As with the show itself, Schlegel’s titles for these paintings convey a sense of considerable emotional distance: “Woman With House.” “Bow Tie.” “Man With Red Coat.” These might be the titles of a group of artistic studies done simply to explore a particular painting technique.

But the paintings themselves evoke complex emotions — much as real life does.

“Birder,” for example, is a straight-up, symmetrical, deadpan depiction of a red-haired woman, binoculars around her neck, who seems slightly oblivious to the large bird that is perched on top of her head. It’s humorous, yes, but also slightly haunting, touching as it does on our inability to see the important things that sit right under — or, in this case, over — our noses.

Objective Shapes runs for just another week at the gallery. Go see it before it flies away.

Robert Schlegel: Objective Shapes runs at Karin Clarke Gallery, 760 Willamette Street, through Sept. 26. Hours are noon to 5:30 pm Wednesday through Friday and 10 am to 4 pm Saturday. Masks required.

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