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Sociological and historical

Early in his career, Schliefer established himself as an artist who does not eschew controversial topics. Painted in his second year as an exhibiting artist, “Out of Many, One Problem” (1969) confronts the viewer with the naked truth of life in the inner-city. He recounts how this work, purchased for the Bank of Jamaica by its then-governor, was quickly taken down from its place in the lobby of the building after complaints from staff and visitors about its explicit depiction of poverty.

Many of Schliefer’s entries for the National Gallery’s Annual and Biennial Exhibitions address questions of national importance: the power of a destructive minority over the nation’s well-being (“Posse tooled for flag”); the entanglement of all classes of society with the cross-border drug trade (“White lady’s honey with rising tide”); the legacy of our history of enslavement and racial disempowerment (“For history book cover”); the ambiguous love-hate relationship that many have with their country (“Man in flag”). The “Poet of patriotism” (1984) depicts the individual who strives for the good of his country but is ravished by hardships beyond his control, imposed by the very country that he loves. “Kingston Pietà” (2008), arguably one of Schliefer’s most important recent works, asks the viewer not to condemn the gun man but to feel pity for him: the painting reflects both violence and compassion.

Schliefer’s 2001 show “Salt and Sugar” (Mutual Gallery) and his 2002 show “Man and Metal, Wood and Water (Mint Gallery) both take historical viewpoints and link past and present – sometimes explicitly so, as in “Links past and present”, but more often leaving it up to the viewer to make the connections, as in his works depicting sugarcane cutters.

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