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Retrospective: Painter reflects on years of work in new exhibit

Anders Shafer's exhibit "Old and New Works" is on display through Jan. 7 at the Eau Claire public library

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    Local artist Anders Shafer talks about his exhibition on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library. View more photos at

    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik
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At 74 years old, artist and retired distinguished UW-Eau Claire professor Anders Shafer thought it was time to do a retrospective show on his work. 

“I’ve gone through many different stages, so I thought it would be an interesting theme,” Shafer said Wednesday, looking around the completed “Old and New Works” exhibit. 

Oil paintings and one drawing from different periods of his life are now on display in the second floor gallery of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library. There will be an artist reception from 7 to 8 p.m. today. 

Shafer, who taught for 43 years at UW-Eau Claire, said the difficult part was going through all of his work — and there is plenty. The artist still paints with his wife, Barbara, every day. 

“I’ve got so much work sitting around, but I did enjoy going through it and looking at my older stuff,” he said. 

Most of the work on display at the library was completed in the last 10 to 12 years, except for a piece titled “Stilwell,” Schafer completed in 1979. That piece, he pointed out, was much more rigid and focused on the details. 

Comparing it to a painting completed this year, Shafer can see how he has developed a more free-spirited way of painting. 

“I think it might have to do with, when you’re looking for something, you’re trying to get there pretty fast so you loosen up,” he said. “You don’t spend a lot of time carefully rendering in areas. You just totally express what you’re thinking all out.” 

The ability to completely express his thoughts is what drives his work, and what Shafer thinks should be the driving factor behind other artists. 

“I’m a big advocate of art being creative and original, as it says in the copyright law,” he said. “I think that’s how art functions, and society should encourage people to trust themselves, trust their own original thoughts.” 

Isa Small, library programming and communication services manager, said it’s been several years since Shafer has had an exhibit at the library, though his work has been entered and accepted into other library exhibits. 

Small, who has been working at the library for four years, said she has come to easily recognize Shafer’s work.

“It is always telling a story and most times, because he does sequence work, there are a lot of stories embedded in each piece,” Small said. “It’s fascinating to look at. You can really spend a chunk of time soaking it all in and looking at each small sequence and how it fits into this large, complete work.”

While much has changed in his work over the years, Shafer thinks that storytelling concept is one thing that has stuck. 

He discovered the concept when he was doing storyboards for children’s books. Storyboards are also used to develop commercials, advertisements and movies, but Shafer discovered they are also one of the oldest forms of communication. 

With that style, many of his pieces offer smaller paintings inside a square, which, if “read” from left to right, make up a bigger picture. 

“I began to think this could be an interesting kind of short story in itself that you could hang on a wall, sort of like a poem, but a visual story,” he said. 

Many of his stories are based on his memories, such as a painting of a cold case in 1964 in Washington, D.C., which he said occurred close to where he lived as a child. 

Others are reflective of history. Sometimes they are a mix of both. 

“One painting is the occupation of Paris,” Shafer said. “I lived in Paris right after the occupation so I thought I could use my memories. I tried to tell a story of the occupation of Paris by the Germans.”  

Small knows those who come to the exhibit or the artist reception will get a strong feel for his work and believes they’ll be as immersed as she has been, discovering Shafer’s stories or perhaps their own. 

However, she thinks one of the unique things about the library exhibit is it’s not in a place people may necessarily go in looking for art. That, she thinks, can add a whole different dimension to viewing works such as Shafer’s. 

“Our (library’s) goal is to introduce art in a place where people aren’t expecting it,” Small said. “Sometimes being caught off-guard by art is a good way to experience it because you don’t go in with any preconceptions. You just react to it and let it affect you.” 

Shafer’s “Old and New Works” is on display through Jan. 7 at the library. 

Contact reporter: 715-833-9214,, @KatherineMacek on Twitter


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