Selected by Ray Waterhouse

JON SCHUELER, Burning, 1956


Our featured artwork this week is a stunning work by the late American artist Jon Schueler (1916-1992), Burning, a highlight of our current Modern & Post-War exhibition in New York.

Evocative of the title, the strong warm colors of this work suggest a dramatic sky and turbulent atmosphere. Schueler’s infatuation with the sky sprang from childhood memories of the expansive horizons of Wisconsin where he was born and Lake Michigan but was later cemented by the terrifying inferno of the skies in WWII during which he served as a navigator in a B-17 bomber for the United States Army. Flying on bombing missions - he found a beauty in the skies equal to their horror: “There in combat and before, the sky held all things, life and death and fear and joy and love. It held the incredible beauty of nature.” 

By the late 1950s, after the war, Schueler was a leading figure in the New York School, exhibiting large scale expressionist works in two major solo shows, one at the auspicious Stable Gallery (1954) and perhaps most significantly at the Leo Castelli Gallery (1957). At the height of his fame however, Schueler chose to turn his attention away from the New York art scene and move to Mallaig, a remote fishing village in the Scottish Highlands. It was here that he became entranced by the evocative and, sometimes, menacing skyscapes experienced between the Isle of Skye and mainland Scotland, and to which he brought the scale, gravity and gesture of Abstract Expressionism. 

When Jack Baur, the then director of the New York Whitney Museum, introduced Schueler’s 1975 solo show, he compared his work to older contemporaries Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still stating that: “Schueler’s solution is more difficult because it is less obvious, he risks more by deliberately exploring a narrow area where nothing is secure, where everything is changing, evanescent, and evocative. We see his paintings one minute as clouds and sea and islands, the next as swirling arrangements of pure colour and light.” By the 1970s the artist had become increasingly concerned with the sky as being the only appropriate visual metaphor for exploring emotion and meaning in his paintings. 

From the 1970s, Schueler - increasingly disillusioned by the commercial emphasis of the New York scene - shifted his focus to Scotland. It was during this time he found a way to balance the contrary cloud forms running through his skyscapes, allowing them to move effortlessly pivoting between nature and abstraction, reality and memory, the past, present and future. With his artistic vision fully formed, he would, for the rest of his lifetime work in both his Manhattan loft and his studio in Mallaig, Inverness-shire, until he passed away in 1992.


JON SCHUELER 1916 - 1992
Burning, 1956
Signed on verso
Oil on canvas
23 x 35 in / 58 x 89 cm


Jon Schueler Estate

January 11, 2021