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Douglas Schneider: Suburban Birthday Party

Arresting Americana and Expressionism

I often long for the comforting images of childhood: the red vinyl chairs of the donut shop, the blue and green psychedelic curtains in my parentís bedroom, the grey, mournful face of our sweet-tempered Golden Retriever, Penny. They are reminders of innocence and contentment, days when all I had to worry about was homework and swim practice. Douglas Schneiderís paintings in "Suburban Birthday Party" (his first showing at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery) are just such images, images that evoke nostalgia for days past while at the same time casting them in a surreal light.

A mixture of expressionist brush strokes and realistically portrayed Americana, Schneiderís work layers everyday objects with sinuous lines and blocks of color, turning them into somewhat bizarre yet interesting visions of idyllic suburban life. It is at the same time reminiscent of both Salvador Dali and Mark Rothko, if you can imagine such a thing: one-story ranch houses floating weightlessly against a bright blue sky streaked with broad, yellow brushstrokes; a claw-footed club chair covered in bright yellow brocade, the blue, green, and yellow of the background showing through cut-outs of the fabricís flower pattern; a charcoal grill and flowered vinyl chair sitting unperturbed in front of two forms practicing a trapeze act as a plain white square forms a focal point at the center of the work.

But just like the past, these works are also layered in meaning and contain more than what appears on the surface. The floating houses float away beyond our grasp, while dancing couples and dogs are nothing more than ghosts composed of roughly sketched lines, forming yet another layer only the thickness of a dream. A child sits on her red bouncy ball, unexpectedly quiet and still, as smoke rises from the stacks of a factory and a bright red Krispy Kreme sign grows like a weed up out of the ground.

What appears to be a young woman in a candy-colored striped dress lies on the floor with her back to the viewer as a theatre curtain drops and pots and pans stack up; the vague outline of a baby and rocking horse float to the left, as though exposing the sometimes enormous gap between dreams and reality, between fiction and truth.

It is as though Schneider wishes to evoke such nostalgia, but also to expose it for what it is: nostalgia, a dream, an incorrectly remembered time that was really little different from the present. We thought it was a time of innocence, but upon peeling away the layer of wishful thinking, it is exposed as fleeting and just as insubstantial as the laser my cat constantly chases but can never catch.

And that is what is truly wonderful about these works: at the same time that they remind us of times past, of an America that probably never was, but that we wish had been, they also ask us to look closer and carefully examine our memories and ideals. Each painting contains more than what initially appears, inviting viewers to study them for hidden meaning and revelation.

The multiple layers, the combination of artistic styles, and the familiar and comforting subject matter of Schneiderís work make it a refreshingly engaging addition to the contemporary art scene.

At the Dolby Chadwick Gallery
210 Post Street, Suite 205
San Francisco
Through June 27th
Free