What could you say to a man about his painting? What could you say that would impress him and yet let him know that his work has informed your own struggle to learn throughout your life?
John Schoenherr’s work has been a part of my life since I was a kid, looking at an Analog cover in my favorite drug store. I was drawn in by the mysterious shapely woman in a tree, accompanied by her gigantic otter. From across the store one could tell that they were friends. This is when I began to realize that painting could not only be fun, it could touch an emotional chord.
From an early age I could tell that John’s work had a certain kind of stiffness in its application compared to other great painters whose brushwork was supple and relaxed. John’s had a rigid quality to it that couldn’t be avoided, yet its graphic composition was unrelenting. He captured light in a graceful manner, pulling your eye to just the most important elements and finished it all like the power of a museum piece.
In all of my art school years, I knew a painter when I saw one. I was never tempted to exclude a commercial artist’s gems from a life dedicated to the almighty gallery world. John’s work showed me that painting transcends application when it truly touches the spirit, whether it was a subtle portrait of a renaissance woman, an experiment in abstract color, or a humongous sandworm cresting a dune.
The fact is, you can’t really say much to a painter like this that wouldn’t make you sound like a simpleton, or the uber fanboy. I never got to meet John Schoenherr. He passed away April 8th, having expressed what I believe he must have surely loved to paint right up until his last day.
And every artist after him that I have ever enjoyed or has shown me how powerful painted images can be, I will thank them, profusely, like I wish I could have mustered the will to do with John.
Thank you, John, for leaving so much work I will never tire of.
Gregory Manchess is an illustrator still waiting for a chance to do plein-air moonscapes.