BY RICK SHAEFER
I’ve been asked to jot down a few words about my art and, by extension, a show that is currently going on at the Bellarmine Museum on the campus of Fairfield University. Those of you unfamiliar with this jewel of a museum should definitely make an effort to mosey over there (in the Bellarmine mansion on top of the hill on campus). Even if just to see the venue itself, and from the veranda overlooking the sweeping lawn, the stunning views of Long Island Sound.
Currently showing at the Bellarmine are a couple of my large, life-size charcoal drawings of a felled oak tree and an Indian rhino, along with a number of larger oil paintings of clouds. The title of the show is “Rendered Nature,” which made me ponder what that really means in the grander scope of art history. I began thinking about those magnificent renderings from the “dawn” of time in the Chauvet and Lascaux caves in France, and especially those showing a magnificent pride of lionesses palpably stalking their prey. And it occurred to me, not for the first time, that we are still painting on cave walls. If you visit the show, and see the Rhino, you will instantly see what I mean. Even the materials used, charcoal, and in the case of the clouds pigment in solution, are the materials our Paleolithic ancestors used to such startling effect many thousands of years ago.
Recently, while taking a break from drawing, I meandered down the hall at the NEST Arts Factory, where I have my studio, and picked up a book at random from the bookshelves in the community room. In it, I ran across a wonderful 1959 article on the delights of drawing by Henri Focillon. Focillon writes, “Drawings are complete without being achieved. A stroke, a spot leads us to guess the whole future of a work of art.” Drawings were once called “thoughts.” He goes on to say, “A spot, the scrawl — that stroke with its melody of thick and thin — the accent, comma of shade or light, awaken in us, across vast intervals of quiet ground, a fever and taste submits itself to their influence.”
That palpable sense of journey and discovery along the way, not necessarily the final destination, is why so many artists, including myself, often leave a piece unfinished, hanging in the moment, so to speak, like the drawings on the cave walls, unfinished.
Rick Shaefer is an artist and member of the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County.