Reeve Schley: An American Master

Has Christmas come early this year? It has if you go to Geary Contemporary, the downtown gallery at 185 Varick Street, where Dolly Bross Geary and Jack Geary are treating us with an exhibition by the remarkable Reeve Schley.

Although Schley is a self-described cattle farmer and hockey player, he is actually one of America’s best painters. Following in the traditions of Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, and Milton Avery, Schley paints in a straightforward manner. Like Homer, he is as facile with watercolors as he is with oil paints, and both artists paint their environments with conviction. Like Hopper, there is an ethos to his work: people going about their lives, paying little attention to the artist, just as if they were cows in a field—and, with Schley, they often are. Like Avery, Schley depicts his subjects up-close on the picture plane; their flattened shapes are expressed in eye-catching colors by a sure-fisted painter. Schley paints what inspires him and, in this exhibition, it’s friends at the beach and his muse—his wife, Georgie. With a modicum of a brushstroke, Schley can beautifully render a sock, a towel, or a wave. What is familiar to Schley becomes enchanting to us.

Although Schley painted and drew from an early age, it was in Munich, studying with Josef Bouchty, that his life as a painter began. Bouchty was a student of Albert Weisgerber, who was killed early in World War I, but left a legacy that was a link between Impressionism and Expressionism. This style, coupled with an early exhibition of Edvard Munch, set Schley on his path. Schley believes that this time in Munich had more effect on him than either his figurative studies at Yale, with the academic Deane Keller, or at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he received his MFA in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Schley went back to farming after his formal training but returned every summer to paint with Bouchty, who died in 1966.

Like Bouchty, Schley became a teacher and taught at the National Academy in New York City for over 30 years. It is particularly exciting that Geary Contemporary is having a show for Schley. Jack and Dolly Geary, a husband-and-wife team, founded their gallery in 2013 in West SoHo. Their intent is to represent American artists working in all sorts of media. To that end, they have several exhibitions a year; travel to Dallas, Chicago, and Miami for Art Fairs; and have created a permanent project space to spotlight a variety of artists. Although the gallery has mostly focused on emerging and mid-career artists, the paintings of Reeve Schley have expanded their perspective.

The freshness of Schley’s work appeals equally to the more established viewer as it does now to the new. So, if you still have some holiday shopping to do, go to 185 Varick Street and have your self a very merry time.