(Above: “Red Barn” is the name of one of Robert Schlegel’s large paintings in his exhibit now on display at the Karin Clarke Gallery in Eugene; photo by Paul Carter)

By Randi Bjornstad

It’s not that Oregon artist Robert Schlegel ever abandoned his artistic bent, but for several decades he had to put his passion for painting in second place as he pursued a career in education, first in the classroom and later in administration.

Not altogether, though. Schlegel admits 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. “Not too much of the time, though.”

Robert Schlegel created a series of paintings based on this character that caught his eye

As early as high school, Schlegel knew he wanted to be a painter. After graduation, he took several art classes at Portland Community College and also studied art history. But when it came time to select a career, education offered a more stable future.

Then came retirement, and a return to his art, which is on display through June in a show called “Robert Schlegel: Varied Themes” at the Karin Clarke Gallery in downtown Eugene.

“I first had a show of his paintings in 2010,” Clarke said. “I knew he had been in the Portland Art Museum show in 1977, and then there was this huge gap until 2004, when he suddenly reappeared and seemed to go gangbusters. He suddenly was winning all sorts of awards and showing in a lot of galleries.”

The title of her Schlegel show reflects his varied subjects, from landscapes and townscapes to people and animals. He often paints large, in bold strokes and vivid colors, but he also creates angular, mixed-media sculptures of buildings and birds.

“I paint a lot,” Schlegel said. “Not every day, but I try to get to the studio every day. I stretch canvas, paint frames and engage in other activity which is related to painting, printmaking or sculpting.”

“Horse with Green” by Robert Schlegel

He likes to paint when it’s “cool outside and raining and late at night.” He often works five hours or more at a stretch and turns his attention to several paintings at a time, moving from one to the next as he finds inspiration for where he wants to take each one.

These days, Schlegel paints mostly with acrylic “so the speed of drying time is reduced, and this allows me to go back into a painting in a rapid manner,” he said. He also incorporates collage and charcoal in many of his pieces. He often works from sketches he’s made of scenery he sees, faces he finds interesting, or his imagination.

Sometimes, Schlegel said, he even paints “in the driver’s seat of my car, with a suitcase of paint, water, brushes, and knives.”

Especially because of the gap in his painting career, his work “has undergone many iterations over the years,” he said. “And I hope that this process continues and that my best work lies before me.”

Robert Schlegel: Varied Themes

When: Through June 30

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

Gallery hours: Noon to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, or by appointment

Information: 541-684-7963 or karinclarkegallery.com

Detail from “Houses on Water” by Robert Schlegel