In today’s kinetic, noise-filled world, Paul Schulenburg’s art offers a meditative look at everyday life.
Landscapes are among Schulenburg’s works, but his figures—the woman standing in a storefront in Front Door, Café Heaven or the lone figure in Fisherman in the Shadows—may be the most arresting focal points. Schulenburg’s figures, all everyday people, seem unique and yet like the rest of us, pulling us in, Edward Hopper-style. “I look for the overlooked,” Schulenburg says. “I look for things that are a little unusual.”
The people in his paintings wouldn’t hold as much fascination without Schulenburg’s remarkable sense of place. “It’s something you feel,” he says. “I’m always exploring to see what I find interesting.” Schulenburg, of Eastham, has been lauded as a master at using light and shade, a big influence on his settings. This may date back to his days at Boston University, where he studied classic painting in the style of William Paxton and John Singer Sargent. “This was the late ‘70s,” Schulenburg says. “It was very unpopular. Most art schools were encouraging abstraction and expressionism; they would say, ‘Do your own thing. ’”
At 24, Schulenburg became a single father when his first wife died of leukemia. He put his fine art aside and worked at home as an illustrator with great success. Schulenburg eventually married the painter Pharr Schulenburg, and his daughter grew up. At that point, he began to paint again. He started with occasional landscapes and small Cape scenes, and his paintings began to sell.
Then something changed. “It was a gray Cape Cod day,” Schulenburg recalls. “I was driving around and saw fishermen in their orange overalls, so colorful with the blue water.” That kicked off his figurative work. He brought some of his pieces to Helen Addison of Addison Art Gallery in Orleans, and his path was firmly forged.
Today, Schulenburg shares a studio with Pharr, painting from life as much as possible. He recently began teaching. He plans more figurative work, particularly on his “Fish Pier Series.” What comes next is anyone’s guess. “I can’t worry about where I’m going,” he says. “When I start painting, I’ll know.”