Jon Schueler was born in Milwaukee in 1916, the son of a tyre manufacturer. During the Second World War he was a B-17 navigator in the United States Army from which he was discharged for medical reasons in 1944. From his upbringing under the expansive skies of Wisconsin and aerial memories of flying over France and Germany in the war, Schueler maintained a fascination with the sky which was realised in his later renderings of the atmosphere above Mallaig on the West Scottish coast for which he became well-known.
He turned to painting at the age of 29 when he enrolled in part-time classes at the California School of Fine Arts. In 1949 he became a full-time student and studied under Clyfford Still and Robert Diebenkorn. Encouraged by his teacher Still, he moved to New York in 1951 where he became immersed in the world of the Abstract Expressionists and socialised with artists such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. In 1957 and 1959 he had solo shows in Leo Castelli’s gallery, a dealer then known for his representation of the Abstract Expressionists.
In 1957 he visited Mallaig in Western Scotland for the first time where he would later buy an old schoolhouse called Romasaig in which he lived and worked 1970-75 and thereon revisited every year. His studio looked out over the narrow channel Sound of Sleat which separates the Isle of Skye, the Mainland and smaller islands such as Rhum, Eigg and Muck. It was the expressive skies over this landscape that fascinated the artist, even when he was back in Manhattan: “this abstraction of the sea and the sky and Sleat – I was possessed by it… there is no colour I could define: the greys were not grey, the silver was not silver, the blacks were not black. It was light and all darkness. Believe me, I have seen eternity, and it is frightening and it is most beautiful…” (Jon Schueler, 29 June 1970).
His paintings following this first visit to Scotland are a unique blend the gesture and colour of the Abstract Expressionists, the wild Scottish landscape and an admiration for the Romantic landscapes of J. M. W. Turner. Clyfford Still first introduced Schueler to Turner’s work at art school and he later saw the collection of watercolours at the British Museum which had great effect on him. Schueler’s landscapes carry the same subtlety and sensitivity in atmosphere as Turner, in part due to the same technique and compositional grounding: Schueler layered washes and coloured glazes to achieve the ephemeral effect of a rapidly changing skyline and used more clearly realised elements of his composition to ground the rest of the abstracted landscape. He aimed to create the same sensation of nature that he believed Turner to have gone further than any other painter to achieving.
Schueler described his painting as the “rending of a veil,” an attempt to reveal fundamental human truths through meditation on his skyscapes. He described this search as a profound impulse to confront truths about life, whether that meant humanity, love, loneliness or eternity. Schueler desired that his search would ultimately break through figuration to grasp at a fundamental universality. This pursuit aligns him with Abstract Expressionism but he questioned the obstinacy with which other Abstract Expressionists embraced non‐objectivity as the prerequisite of freedom of thought and expression.
In a 1975 he had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum and in the same year appeared in Landscapes, Interior and Exterior: Avery, Rothko and Schueler at the Cleveland Institute of Fine Arts. In 1981 Schueler painted in the Talbot Rice Centre in the University of Edinburgh for six weeks on view to the public in an exhibition called The Search. His work also appears in various public collections including Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Edinburgh), National Gallery of Australia (Canberra) and Baltimore Museum of Art. After he passed away in 1992, his widow Magda Salveson started to edit and compile his memoirs which were then published as The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life by Jon Schueler in 2000.