Looking at one of 29-year-old Brett Scheifflee's quiet, peaceful landscapes, you'd never guess that his very first body of work was a series of technicolored, pop art portraits of old-fashioned candy. One of them, a painting of a huge swirly lollipop titled "Whirly," hung in one of The Vendue's first art exhibitions back in 2014.
The technique is excellent and it's a fun piece, but Scheifflee is glad to have left that behind. "It was kind of being inspired by modern art stars like Jeff Koons, and wanting to make something derivative of that. Feeling like your own experiences aren't good enough and maybe never will be good enough. I spent a year on that initial body of work, and at the end I didn't really know what it was about," Scheifflee says.
As all artists must, Scheifflee was simply going through the process of finding his own voice. The only difference is that usually, that work isn't good enough to merit inclusion in a major group show.
Today any work you see by Scheifflee, who now lives in Charleston and is represented by Robert Lange Studios, will make you think more of Andrew Wyeth than Andy Warhol. Primarily landscapes unsullied by human or animal presence, this young artist's work is contemplative and soft — it conveys a subtle love and reverence for nature's beauty.
This appreciation for the natural world is something Scheifflee was, in a sense, born into. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., where he spent plenty of time admiring the surrounding landscape. While he loved drawing from a young age, he only committed himself to painting while in college at the Rochester Institute of Technology, also in upstate New York, where he was "officially" studying illustration.
After graduating, he remained in the area and threw himself into painting. Yet while he'd discovered his medium, he had yet to embrace landscapes. "There's a little back and forth with painters between what they choose to paint and what chose them," Scheifflee says. "For me, it feels like I really couldn't escape my surroundings. I resisted. I took a little bit of time to realize that this kind of thing [landscapes] speaks to me, and I should just work with it."
He began painting the rolling hills, the gentle valleys, and the warm autumn colors of his native region, finding that doing so came naturally to him. And he was getting a good response to his work — people seemed to like it, and he was picked up by a gallery in Cazenovia, N.Y.
But after spending so many years in the Northeast, Scheifflee was ready for another landscape. He moved to Colorado, where he continued painting and found representation at the Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, Colo.
The Rockies, as they have for countless artists and photographers, provided Scheifflee with plenty of inspiration. His Colorado landscapes are as contemplative as the ones he completed in New York, but the scale is, naturally, different. The mountains are so huge that they necessitate a different perspective; in these, the viewer is often looking across a vast distance at the glory of those massive mountains. The view is more impressive than intimate, more awe-inspiring than comforting.
The colors, too, gave Scheifflee something new and different to consider. "The colors of the East compared to the West are so different," he says. "With the moisture in the air, things tend to be more subdued [in the East]. In Colorado, the sun would shine this bright, white-yellow, and when it went down the sky was this deep, star-riddled blue."
Those differences manifested in other ways as well. "There was a real psychological difference," Scheifflee adds. "If you climbed up the right trail on a quiet day, you could almost hear the mountains crumbling. Every time the summer ended and the mountains began to get that white snow on top, it got kind of stressful. You think, 'Are we going to be able to drive out of here? Are we going to be able to fly out?'"
These feelings of pressure are part of what prompted Scheifflee and his girlfriend to move. Today, he's a resident of James Island, where he's lived for the past year.
He's also started painting his first series of coastal landscapes. "It's flatter and a little less dynamic, for sure, than out West. It's more steady," he says. "I remember the first time we were on the beach here, the tide was high, and everything was so clean and combed over. It made me think of a hockey rink, when they drive the Zamboni over it with every wave, everything is just clean and new. I thought, 'Oh, this is why people live out here.'"
His upcoming show at Robert Lange Studios, Stages, will be his first solo show at the gallery, although he's been in several of their group shows over the past couple of years. Featuring 23 pieces, Stages will be the first show to include Scheifflee's new coastal paintings.
While locals will no doubt be pleased to see local landmarks, like the Morris Island Lighthouse, among the artist's works, for Scheifflee every landscape has its own very particular appeal. "I think it's impossible not to be really mesmerized by the land, and brought to a peaceful place by it," he says. "The job of the landscape painter is to bring out the moving, beautiful parts — whether they're obvious or not."