THE SOUND OF SLEAT by Jon Schueler


A Painter's Life
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As a painter, abstract expressionist Schueler fought to translate his vision to canvas; as a writer, he struggled just as hard to describe the difficulty of leading a creative life. A newcomer who quickly found his way into the center of the prevailing art scene in the 1950s, Schueler began his career in the shadow of such artists as Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. Years younger than those first-generation abstract expressionists, however, he had to fight to assert his place in the pantheon. It was a fight that drained him, and as much as he longed to be in the midst of “the glory,” he also longed to escape it. This volume, a collection of the artist’s letters and journal entries, begins with his decision to leave New York in search of a landscape that would inform his work; under the quick-changing skies of Mallaig, Scotland, he found it. The wild, stormy weather of Scotland’s West Coast mirrored his own emotional struggle: insecure and ambitious, driven and desiring, Schueler ricocheted between countries, dealers, and women. Judging by this book, the greatest constant in his life was his devotion to his art, and his book reflects his dedication to it with a loose, engaging fluency. He was a fearless documentarian, and The Sound of Sleat fascinates—not only for its studio-eye view of the epochal New York art scene of the ’50s and ’60s, but also for its archetypal quality. Schueler was nothing if not self-aware, and in spite of occasional self-aggrandizing, he had a very clear understanding of the cost of leading a creative life. Although he suffered greatly for his art—and put the women who loved him though hell—his story remains oddly uplifting; he chose to live as close to his dream as possible. An insider’s outsider, Schueler had a unique perspective on the raging art world of the ’50s and ’60s; his book is both a personal testament and a riveting account of American painting at that time. (16 pages color, 32 b&w photos)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20015-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999