(Above: Gallery owner Karin Clarke stands among pieces in Robert Schlegel’s solo show at her Karin Clarke Gallery. Titled Objective Shapes, it includes paintings and constructions that the artist has created from his imagination during 2020’s months of pandemic isolation.)

By Randi Bjornstad

A solo show by Banks, Ore., painter Robert Schlegel has been on the schedule at the Karin Clarke Gallery for a long time, and Clarke is delighted but by no means surprised by the choices the artist made in putting this display together.

Woman with House combines elements of the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic with bright, hopeful color.

“All the work in this show has been done this year and, like everyone else, Bob has been pretty much housebound by the pandemic,” Clarke said. “Instead of his usual habit of being on the road, driving many places for inspiration and sketching everything he sees, we have a show that focuses on more on the home environment, with houses and people and a focus of being more in one place.”

However, Schlegel’s work often emphasizes the solidity and symbolism of buildings, she said, partly because one of his strongest memories is the old, square house where his grandmother lived during his growing-up years.

“That has always stayed in his mind, so it seems natural that it would be a theme of his work during this period of isolation,” Clarke said. “It’s interesting, though, that in this show there are darker ones and then much brighter ones.”

The darkest ones came out of winter, as the world went into isolation in an effort to contain the rapidly spreading global coronavirus threat, she said. The brighter ones cane with spring, with hope springing out of the dropping frequency of cases occasioned by mask-wearing, social distancing, and better access to medical treatment.

Besides his paintings, Schlegel introduced a new element into his repertoire for this show, Clarke said.

“He built all these little houses and set them on pedestals, with the title, Under Quarantine,” she said. “They seem to carry out the same theme of isolation, but they are quirky moments, too — one of them has a picture of Dr. Fauci (director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force) peering out of a window.”

Several paintings also contain subtle references to the pandemic, featuring portraits of people subtly clad in face masks.

One of the happily whimsical pieces in the Schlegel show is titled Birder.

“Artists have taken this challenging time very seriously, and Bob has been doing his art in his studio from his imagination, so it’s not until you see it all in front of you at once that you feel the impact of this work,” Clarke said. “At the same time, what he has created is not lacking in hope. There is a lot of humor, and a lot of charm.”

One example of that is a large colorful painting of a woman clad in bright purple with a pair of binoculars hanging around her neck and a bird sitting atop her head. The title is Birder.

Part of Schlegel’s appreciation for whimsy may have grown out of his long career as a school teacher and then administrator. Clarke first showed his work in 2010, several years after he retired and turned his attention back to painting.

Interviewed for a Eugene Scene story in 2018 when he last had a solo show at the Karin Clarke Gallery, Schlegel said he knew as early as high school that he wanted to be a painter, but he concluded that becoming an educator was a more sustainable career decision.

He admitted though, that like a wayward student who gets caught doodling or daydreaming in class, he often found himself sketching at conferences or during faculty meetings.”I tried to focus on the topic at hand most of the time, but sometimes the sketch dominated my thinking,” he said then. “Not too much of the time, though.”

Now it doesn’t matter, and Clarke finds both Schlegel’s skill and intuition admirable.

“He’s one of the artists that I love to represent, and when it comes to exhibits, I trust him completely,” she said. “I tell him to bring whatever he wants for a show, and it’s always wonderful.”

Objective Shapes

When: Through Sept. 26

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

Details: Masks and social distancing required according to state of Oregon and Oregon Health Authority guidelines

Hours: Noon to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday

Information: 541-684-7963, karinclarkegallery.com

Robert Schlegel’s painting, Bus #6/2, anchors his solo show at the Karin Clarke Gallery; the large painting measures 48 inches wide by 36 inches high.