​David Schirm’s “All The Glad Variety” covers array of artist’s life

Survey of UB professor’s work featured at Hallwalls


Covering 45 years of an artist’s career is a difficult task to manage, but UB professor David Schirm’s latest exhibit is the definition of comprehensive.

More than 100 people attended the opening of David Schirm’s “All The Glad Variety” on Friday, a survey of his work at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in Buffalo. The survey encompasses more than 145 pieces - a task that compacts Schirm’s work into Hallwalls’ 1,500 square feet.

The reception started in Hallwalls’ downstairs theater, with an artist’s talk that featured Schirm discussing the inspirations behind his works.

John Massier, Visual Arts Curator at Hallwalls, talked about the unconventionality of having Schirm’s survey in their space as well as the lack of a chronological order that went into hanging the artist’s work. Massier and Rebecca Wing, Hallwalls’ Art Education Coordinator, worked on the survey with Schirm over the summer.

Massier noted the “multitude of the visual language” expressed in Schirm’s work, visible through his “glad variety” of paintings and mark making.

“Everything he makes has a story behind it, so there’s a suggestion that there’s a deep narrative within all his work even if the viewer doesn’t know, explicitly,” Massier said. “That is part of the internal construction within an artist, the thing that’s consistent within him that gets expressed in his work and helps create a consistent visual language over time.”

Each piece Schirm talked about during the opening reception has loaded background to it, as well. In pieces like “Hometown Tune,” the work is inspired by the discovery of a mine shaft in West Virginia, which eventually led to the deaths of several miners. In others like “Bubble Up,” Schirm paints blood in the water to symbolize an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

He also takes inspiration from a potpourri of places in his work, using everything from bobcat skins to stuffed gorillas.

It’s these aspects that make Schirm’s survey a maximal achievement for the gallery and shows the artist’s vast creativity.

“In a survey, there’s a lot of things you want to represent - from style, shifts in that style, consistencies, mark-making to forms and color palette,” Massier said. “Those things would come through in a conventional setting but they are arguably even more amplified when you carpet-bomb everything together on the walls like this, forcing the work to exist with each other in an intimate relationship.”

Schirm’s works coexist in Hallwalls’ space seamlessly - from large to small, paintings and sketches face off between the gallery’s jungle of walls. Between hell-infused graphite works of snakes slithering through fire and surreal oil works, Schirm’s work is far from definitive in the survey.

Schirm, a professor in the art department, said it was interesting looking back at his older work through the survey.

“It was wonderful to work with Hallwalls and looking back, there weren’t any paintings that were an embarrassment,” Schirm said. “It’s really funny when I look at the survey because there’s a consistency with a lot of the shapes I’ve used and they seem to appear, re-appear at times. Then there’s an awareness of my life and other people’s lives that I’ve been able to put into some of the work, as well.”

Some of Schirm’s pieces that deal with war imagery have a personal brush for the artist, who went to Vietnam as a combat engineer after enlistment.

Schirm said the war certainly had an impact on his work dealing with the themes, which are mostly drawings.

“Seeing kids who had been terribly maimed and then you see these beautiful things, white cranes sitting on barbed wire looking over these really lush terrains and swamps,” Schirm said. “Those all combine, come back and mix up together for you in different ways.”

His work expands beyond war, touching on religious themes in pieces like “He Is Dead, He Is Risen” and beautifying, natural works like “A Gift For You, A Gift For Me.”

Pieces throughout are captive, too, like “Springtime in the Garden of Martyrs,” which chants details of absurdism, petalled flowers and bloody paths. Others like “An Artist’s Still Life” tangle fruit, arms, dice and furs into one coloring book-like space.

In one of the galleries more expansive, larger pieces, “The History of the World - Pleasure and Pain” completes an optical marathon for attendees. The oil on canvas work dazzles snakes, robots and Santa Claus amongst a enriched black space of minimally detailed yet skilled sketches.

Attendees, like Gabriel Pereira, a junior psychology major, visited Hallwalls for the first time and said he really liked how the pieces were placed on the gallery walls.

“The way Hallwalls grouped the paintings based on the features the artists used was interesting,” Pereira said. “It beats ordering paintings up by date or otherwise by curating the works in this way you could see the aspects of Schirm’s career in a more outright method.”

“All The Glad Variety” is on view until Nov. 3. Hallwalls is open Tuesday through Friday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm and on Saturdays from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Admission to the arts center is free.

Benjamin Blanchet is a senior arts editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com.