ALEX SCHAEFER, Hourly Rates, Robert Berman Gallery, LA CA January 4 – Feb 1, 2003

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Hauntingly honest and decidedly unpretentious, LA based painter, Alex Schaefer playfully adopted and disposable consumer based notion of “Hourly rates”, as the title and thematic thread for his January show at Robert Berman Galley in Santa Monica Los Angeles.

Observing strippers and cheap hotel rooms from throughout LA, Schaefer offered 22 separate works bound by the mantra of hourly rates as a common denominator. Contrary to possible charges of misogyny and body objectification, Schaefer’s playful vision underscores the simple links and parallels to the equasive joy of everyday commerce. Both the hotel rooms and the strippers triumph as everyday tools of the market economy, providing cheap and convenient satisfaction for basic needs and wants.

Politically, its contentious as to whether strippers and or hotel rooms should be lumped together as comparable cogs in the wheels of industry. Yet exploring this rhetoric isn’t the intention of Schaefer, his aesthetic treatment conjures an air of anonymity for his subjects, liberating them from their everyday meaning, purging them of emotional and psychological ambiguity, recontextualising them from bland, frozen moments of society’s “ darker” side.

Perhaps his use of a quote by German artist Rainer Maria Rilke, in his publicity material may help clarify Schaefer’s intentions, “You will notice, each time more clearly than the last, how essential it was to get beyond the love as well; of course it is only natural that you love these objects as you’re painting them; but if you show that, then you don’t paint them as well; you judge them instead of expressing them, You stop being impartial and, as a result, the best part, the love stays outside the work, does not enter into it, remains something else, untransmuted….You painted; I love this thing instead of painting, here it is.”

Acting on a sense of Freudian nostalgia, combined with his own eccentric romanticism, Schaefer aimed to avoid the technical clichés associated with his subjects. Rather than focus on the obvious stark and even morbid shadow of the subjects, he uncharacteristically transforms them, helping them graduate from a generic void to possess a newfound personality.

Exploring the generic quality of LA’s downtown hotels, Schaefer stayed overnight at venues with names like The Royal Viking, the Olive Manor and The Downtowner. Poised with canvas and easel, he observed their untouched beds and empty bathrooms, dwelling on their ambience and transforming their ordered, and generic anonymity. into a canvas based visions of paradoxical beauty. For his nude renderings, Schaefer bypassed his vast pool of scholastic contacts, opting for the dirty realist route by targeting LA’s Paris strip club, where, adjourning to a private booth for post strip favors, he forfeited gratuitous “hand relief” instead asking girls to pose while he sketched them. He later adapted, and elaborated on these roughs transforming them into larger sized oil paintings.

Schaefer is keen to confide that he was more motivated by the gritty realism of the moment than notions of voyeurism, or sexuality. He is also determined that the work is not mere portraiture, rather a canvas bound document of exposed privacy.

The artist offers his own visual stance on a situation, one that is born from recontextualising a moment. In the case of his stripper works, the clichéd preconceptions associated with the view awarded newfound neutrality, purged of emotional and psychological baggage, observing not judging.

With much frivolity and mirth, Schaefer fondly recounts the volatile environment in which he painted, smuggling his materials into a phone booth sized room. He also dodged arguments with club managers, occasionally being ejected, only to return amongst the flock of attendees shuffling into the club as if on some vital errand later hurriedly escaping in a frenzy of embarrassment and catholic guilt.

Stylistically Schaefer is adamant that he has removed himself from the machinations of everyday portraiture and still life, it’s an accurate admission. His technically adept touch is testament to his career as a Professor of Painting at Artcenter in Pasadena. It also underscores his ability to craft his own perspective, his oeuvre more concerned with totality than a mere singular component of his focus.

With a technique recounting the pixilated brush stroke style of Cézanne or the Dutch realists, Schaefer can transform even the most generic or formulaic view into something exuberant, reinterpreting it with a renewed perspective giving it new life and meaning.

In the same manner as Vermeer and Cézanne, Schaefer’s images synthesize a fascination with light that extends the transformative qualities of the work. A mundane stance is resurrected via use of light as a liberating force. This light, rather than added as an afterthought, seems to come from somewhere within the canvas itself. “I want my paintings to be beautiful not only because of the light they reflect, but also in and of their surfaces.” Schaefer says.

Apart from his ingenuity in seeking subjects to paint, the striking quality about Schaefer’s work is his ability to transform a dark and Spartan world into something personable, helping it emerge from a subterranean realm of clinical anonymity to a vision exuding warmth and personality.

Written by Craig Stephens

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