Briden Cole Schueren learns to let go

The works on display in the artist’s coming exhibition at Hayley Gallery emerged as he began to process the grief that took hold when a good friend died suddenly and tragically.
Briden Schueren
Briden SchuerenCourtesy the artist

About a year ago, Briden Cole Schueren secured a show at Hayley Gallery in New Albany, at which point the artist started to consider how he could fill the space. But while in these earliest stages of preparation, a close friend of Schueren died in a tragic way, sending him reeling and completely obliterating his artistic drive.

“And for the better part of six or seven months, I didn’t make anything,” said Schueren, who will host an opening reception for his new exhibit at Hayley Gallery from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16. “And then I got this burst, this need to create and help move this grief. And that is what’s happening right now. A lot of the artwork that will be in this show has a lot to do with me moving through grief and pain and trying to process it and find the light and find my joy in making art again.”

At times, this process exhibited itself in easily recognizable ways, with Schueren’s grief bleeding from his fingertips, through the brush and directly onto the canvas. In one piece that will be on display, this sadness materialized physically on the canvas as the fog in which he had been emotionally immersed for months. “And there was this realization I was painting my grief and this cloud that was hovering over me,” Schueren said. “And as this cloud is coming onto the painting, it’s helping me through the sadness.”

Even in those months when Schueren couldn’t paint, he kept his hands busy, turning to embroidery, leatherwork and photography, among other pursuits, describing them as a needed distraction that allowed him to focus on anything other than his pain. Schueren said these types of creative pursuits have served as emotional ballast from childhood, helping him process the world around him, as well as his place in it.

“Being a trans person and being somebody who was in IEP (Individualized Education Plan) classes and in classes with special needs kids, I struggled with socializing. And so, I turned to art to find a different way of expressing myself,” said Schueren, who also has a trio of paintings in the 83 Gallery “Transform Ohio” exhibit now on display at Brothers Drake. “And it saved my life as far as helping me cope and helping me learn to release my emotions and my struggles through paint, and through challenging myself with creating something I feel happy and satisfied with. And, yeah, that is very, very helpful. … I have some paintings that are playful to look at –actually, all of my paintings are very playful to look at – but if you know the backstory it’s like, oh, there’s a deep sadness to this.”

One of the paintings on display at Hayley Gallery
One of the paintings on display at Hayley GalleryCourtesy Briden Schueren

Generally, Schueren said he is able to let go whatever emotion took hold in the creative process once a piece is completed, which makes it easier to physically let go of a painting. With this show, however, the emotions still feel close, and Schueren said he isn’t sure yet how he’ll handle it if and when something is purchased.

“Usually I’ve processed those feelings, and I’ve graduated them and moved on,” said Schueren, who plans to donate a percentage of sales to the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. “But today I was talking to someone about how I was struggling with the thought of someone buying one of these … because it has been such a big, emotional struggle, and I’m still not sure I am. I might need to have visits to the painting.”

It shouldn’t surprise that Schueren discovered comfort in art. While neither of his parents pursued creative paths, both his grandfather (on his dad’s side) and his grandmother (on his mom’s side) were artists, with the latter serving as an early source of inspiration and an ongoing muse for Schueren.

Growing up, when the boys would run around outside and play, Schueren would often retreat to the basement with his grandmother, the two painting together side by side. And when she moved into a nursing home, she gifted him a trove of cheap paints, which he now deploys bits of on each canvas, so that every painting contains a physical tie to that deeper generational connection.

“It’s a tribute to my grandmother, because she did help me understand what it is to feel the paintbrush in your hand, and how it feels to paint,” Schueren said. “And I do attach one of the empty little jars of her craft paint to the back of each canvas, and I write a little note saying that each of these contains a little bit of paint from my grandmother in it. I want her to carry on in all my paintings.”

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or know someone who is, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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