Told Her Work Was ‘Too Dark’ to Show or Sell, Artist Defies Critics with Enthralling Gallery Display

'Trevi' and 'Eris'

ON THE SURFACE, René Romero Schuler is an attractive woman who makes attractive art. At first glance, her work appears delicate and girly, art you can easily color-match with your couch or the wallpaper in your newborn’s nursery.

But look a little more closely, and it becomes clear there are deeper, darker dimensions within Schuler’s meticulously crafted images, images informed by the traumatic events of her past, including fleeing an abusive homelife as a teenager with nowhere to go but the streets, and a long struggle to master her craft and build a viable business from scratch. This is art made by a survivor. Her current show, My Heart Holds A Universe, is on view through March 31 at Grogan Gallery.

Schuler’s oil paintings are built up in layers of rough, weathered textures and pockmarked with minute imperfections. “Every mark is deliberate,” says Schuler, whose recurring subject is the female figure — or, more specifically, ghostly, featureless portraits of young women, each standing in her truth on spindly legs, who appear to be materializing or vanishing before your eyes.

In a painting titled “Eris,” named for the Greek goddess of strife and discord, the figure has been abstracted into a flame-like silhouette. It’s an example of work created on days when Schuler feels “particularly off-kilter or vulnerable, angry, upset, take your pick,” and attempts to “tap into that sacred, feminine energy, and let it emerge and give me power and strength.” Like “Eris,” many of her painting’s titles are women’s names, names Schuler insists come to her out of the blue during the process of painting, although she is a voracious reader, and has published a book of personal essays and poetry.

In “Trevi,” Italian for “three roads,” she has painted a trio of young girls, each wearing a pickle-colored, pear-shaped dress, signifying a sisterly bond. In conversation, Schuler explains the painting is of her and her two sisters, the youngest of whom committed suicide.

Despite being told early in her career that her work was “too dark” to show, let alone sell, Schuler is represented by several galleries in the U.S. and overseas, and has exhibited internationally. She is the mother of two sons, age 18 and 20, and this month celebrates her 21st wedding anniversary. Meanwhile, the mysterious, grueling and time-consuming process of making art remains her lifeline, a way to heal, and a way to remain strong. “I first tap into my own energy,” says Schuler of her time in the studio, “and then I let things come together and become what they’re going to be.”

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