Last summer Dennis Schaefer hosted an exhibit at Brooklyn Art District’s art-house darling, Bottega Art and Wine. The show consisted of portraits inspired by nostalgia, as modeled after black and white photographs. Schaefer then immersed the imagery in texture and emotion with a varied color palette. Fast forward one year later, and the local artist will showcase 18 more pieces in “Carnival of Souls,” which opens August 30.
“I choose images that portray a moment in time that tell a story through expression, posture and background—that create a tableau,” Schaefer notes.
The show will entail 12 small, older, intimate works on canvas. The other six will be larger landscapes and a triptych, with prices ranging from $75 to $2,500. The triptych, “Is, Was, Ever Shall Be,” comes from a personal experience Schaefer had when meeting three women at the 2017 Artfields Festival in Lake City, South Carolina. One was an artist, another a mayor’s wife and the last, a friend.
“The artist was exhibiting a work depicting a lynching,” Schaefer tells, “and it had generated so much controversy that a guard had to be posted at the venue.” Schaefer held all three African-American women in high admiration. “They were brave, courageous and beautiful souls, and I wanted to portray them as such.”
Some people represented in his portraits are famous, while others are completely anonymous. In the artist’s technique of exploring texture, volume, temperature and emotion, he says some even morph into entirely different characters. “The work is complete when it is recognized by an observer as a truthful expression.”
Schaefer’s love for painting began with watercolors in youth. Someone gifted him a Fauvist book of art, showing the early 20th century Parisian movement of vivid expressionism and bright, if not sometimes unnatural colors (a la Matisse). The freedom with which the Fauves work continues to inspire and feed Schaefer.
“As a natural born iconoclast, the expressionists inspired a personal, subjective form of creation, unhampered by the rules and expectations of the academy,” Schaefer says.
Through life’s ups and downs, even happy times and bad, through jobs, marriage and children, painting always provided a world of escapism. It wasn’t until the artist retired seven years ago that he picked up his lifelong passion full-time, and today he exhibits across the Southeast. While spending time up north three years ago, in Eastport, Maine, he met abstract artist Ben Georgia. Georgia’s work has been praised worldwide and even commissioned by the likes of General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welch and the Pfizer Corporation and the Shering-Plough Corporation’s Abigail Johnson.
“Ben became a close friend and ‘partner in crime,'” according to Schaefer, “sharing bad jokes and a joie de vivre.” As a student, Schaefer witnessed his 78-year-old mentor’s sheer love for artistry. “Not once has he lost his joy of painting. His guidance has resulted in a refinement to my style, technique, skill and philosophy of expression on canvas.”
The most important part of Schaefer’s art comes in portrayal of truth—connecting with the subject and viewers. He says it’s a skill to be learned but not taught.
“It is the intangible that enables communication,” Schaefer explains. “It exists in children’s art, outsider art and the works of anyone who is compelled to express an emotion through art.”
Though the artist primarily works in acrylics currently, he has expanded his interests into cut paper and plaster. His fascination with diptych and triptych has become a means to broaden the narrative. “I would also like to expand to the third dimension with sculpture at some point,” Schaefer says.
For now, folks can head to Bottega on August 30 for an artist reception.