(Above: Farm Scene, by Robert Schlegel; mixed-media on brown paper, 10×8 inches, undated)

By Sylvie Pederson

The Karin Clarke Gallery presents a large retrospective exhibit of smaller works by the late Oregon artist Robert Schlegel (1947-2021). The majority of these pieces are later works,  exhibited for the first time and freshly framed. This selection typifies Schlegel’s singular artistic style, with its characteristic landscapes, buildings, figures, and birds.

Most of Schlegel’s landscape imagery is rooted in the Northwest: farmland, barns, boxlike houses, city buildings, even industrial landscapes. Colors are sometimes muted, sometimes bright, evoking overcast or sunny days, capturing the atmosphere of the seasons.

Always, structure matters — how lines and planes intersect,  shapes interact, and shadows fall. He described the way he painted and drew as “all about balance and imbalance.” With brushstrokes at once textured, bold, and spontaneous, he tried “to move  away from being photographically representational.” In fact, he said, he wanted to be more spontaneous, make more mistakes, be less precise — in a word, to be more childlike. As a result, his work straddles the representational and the abstract, probing the tension between the two.

Robert Schlegel, Waiting Room, 2007; acrylic on paper, 7×8 inches

This is true also of his colorful birds and unconventional figures. The latter are sometimes seen from an  unusual perspective: from above, from behind, in reflective or intimate moments, or caught in improbable  poses. Despite generic titles, they are intensely individual, eschewing precise details yet immensely  suggestive.

Their emotional complexity is conveyed through Schlegel’s unique ability to imbue his figures with an expressive body language capable of evoking a wide range of feelings, from poignant to  impish, in part a result of his idiosyncratic mark-making, eloquent pictorial distortions, and a deliberate rejection of strict realism. Whatever their subject matter, Schlegel’s paintings exude playfulness, charm, and whimsy, but often combined with a hint of melancholy, pensiveness, and at times even a kind of brooding.

Robert Schlegel’s Man and Coffee Cup, mixed-media, 8×14 inches, undated

Wherever he found himself, Schlegel sketched people and places obsessively, using charcoal, pencil, or  oil pastel. These sketches in turn formed the basis for his oil and acrylic paintings. Aside from several works on canvas or panel, most of the pieces in this exhibit are mixed-media on archival paper, combining  acrylic with charcoal or pencil. Schlegel at times also included “found paper” in his mixed-media works,  such as music sheets, book or ledger pages, even stamps.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University and an master’s from Portland State University. A lifetime resident of Banks, Oregon, he became a full-time painter in 2002 and continued until his untimely death in 2021. He shared a studio with his brother, Bill, also a printmaker and painter.

Robert Schlegel’s work has been exhibited in many solo and group exhibits in Oregon, Washington, California, and Montana, and is included in  many institutional collections throughout the country.

Recently, the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem acquired a selection of his work to add to its permanent collection. A 2016 program of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Art Beat featuring Schlegel can be viewed at pbs.org/video/oregon-art-beat-painter-robert-schlegel/

Members of Robert Schlegel’s family will attend the opening reception of his show at the Karin Clarke Gallery, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 29.

(Sylvie Pederson is gallery associate and press writer for the Karin Clarke Gallery.)

Untitled (Red Head), by Robert Schlegel; acrylic on paper, 6×10 inches, undated


Robert Schlegel: Rural Sightings

When: June 26 to Aug. 3, 2024

Where: Karin Clarke Gallery, 760 Willamette St., Eugene

Opening reception: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on June 29, to be attended by members of the late painter’s family; open also from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. during downtown Eugene’s First Friday ArtWalk on July 5

Regular gallery hours: Noon to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday

Information: 541-684-7963 or karinclarkegallery.com