I walk up to gallery’s yard and see Michael Schliefke donning a hot dog costume and posing for his parents. Looked like he was having a gran’ ole time. He and I go back since his arrival in Austin, when I was an intern at the ARTHive, so of course he greets me and invites me into the gallery.
I step into the gallery throught the door and find a group of older works. They were last featured at Gallery Jean Moulin. Past this group of works and the restroom, I can see some newer works in the middle gallery. I find references to Austin’s everchanging landscape. Jabs at Mr. Schliefke’s arch-enemies, the hipsters, with their Ipods and perfectly tussled and shellacked hair, and a group that appears to be led around by Elizabeth Wynn, take center stage. In the narrow gallery by the bay door are more paintings. These back away from the Austin scene and make general, somewhat snide remarks about life in these United States. I find a lot more overt references to classic paintings. Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe was an immediate visual quote that many people noticed at the opening. Looking through Mr. Schliefke’s portfolio I find a reference to Balthus. Overall, the compositions contain classic structure making the figures feel elusively familiar. But I caught that Balthus figure right away! That’s okay though, ’cause if a Ninja Turtle can do it, then anyone can.
Reaching the last paintings for a second time, I look back and notice alot of similarities. I could see the figures posed in a lot of the same gestures. The skin tones were the same lightened, yellow ochre color. And the color palette was brighter and used a more primary combination. The paintings began to look more like illustrations with the brighter blues and greens combined with the outlining purples and blacks. If I had to guess, I would say these paintings were overworked. The images feel sculpturally rendered, if that makes sense. The lighting appears to be a generic, global source, thus the simple and similar gradation of color on different elements. Specifically, the use of white.
Adding to the illustrative feel is the use of very didactic and literal imagery. The titles also detract from the paintings by adding another layer of narration. When presenting every aspect of a mystery, a novel loses its suspense. So when a painting clearly presents every element of its story, my mind is not being challenged. And that’s what I want from my art, an interaction, not just a presentation.And I really, really don’t like it when an artwork tells me exactly what to do or think.
Saving grace and giving hope is the one piece that looks like a Gauguin. There are no discernible facial features, the skin tones are unnaturally orange, and the mood is the most descriptive element about the image. Ironically, the title, “Left Unsaid” is what I was looking for in the other paintings.
Unfortunately, one painting can not hold up a teeming gallery. I feel the work was BAD.
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.