Finding inspiration in the visual and metaphorical properties of the sky, Jon Schueler (1916-1992) painted dramatic images that communicated its profound energy and transcendent power through rolling colors and burning light. Schueler was among the second-generation New York School of abstract expressionists who were known for reshaping the first generation’s uncompromising abstraction into a more emotive, descriptive visual language. For Schueler, the sky was a theater, both ageless and ever-changing, and his paintings are talismans for its sublime drama.
Sky as Landscape features a selection of work from throughout his career, during which Schueler continuously sought to paint nature’s inexpressible, primal essence in “swirling arrangements of pure color and light,” as described in the show catalog for Schueler’s 1975 solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art by then-Director John I.H. Baur. Schueler was enthralled by the elemental power of nature—in particular, the dynamic weather off the northern coast of Scotland—and his painterly canvasses treat the sky as its metaphysical conduit.
Schueler flew missions as a B-17 bomber navigator during World War II, and the intense experiences he endured over Europe throughout the war prompted him to view the sky anew, as a firmament with material and metaphoric implications. Under the G.I. Bill, Schueler attended the California School of Fine Arts and studied with artists such as Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Park. With Clyfford Still’s help and encouragement, Schueler moved to New York in 1951. One can see vestiges of Stills’ influence on Schueler, in his patches of robust, unapologetic color, such as in The First Snow Cloud (1958) and Cloud over Knoydart (1957).
Upon his arrival in New York City, he was introduced to Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Ad Reinhardt. His first two solo exhibitions were at the Stable Gallery and at the legendary Leo Castelli Gallery, which was the Castelli’s first solo exhibition and drew positive reviews in both the New York Times and Life Magazine.