Most people looking through the photographs found in Rocky Schenck’s second collection, The Recurring Dream (University of Texas Press, September 6), would doubtless turn to words like “murky” and “mysterious” to describe his aesthetic. And Schenck labors mightily to achieve those effects. His work is actually a hybrid medium; after taking and developing a photograph, he applies layers of oil paint to the surface, until the image takes on an incandescent unreality.
The method isn’t new; the 61-year-old artist—who has lived in Los Angeles for many years and has designed iconic album covers for bands such as Alice in Chains—cites Victorian predecessors, though he’s also inspired by the work of his great-great-grandfather Hermann Lungkwitz, a famed Texas painter and photographer. Growing up on a ranch in Dripping Springs, Schenck heard family members speak reverently of Lungkwitz’s work, and that sense of legacy is one of the things that inspired him on his artistic journey. Lungkwitz’s nineteenth-century romantic landscapes may seem far removed from his great-great-grandson’s somber compositions, but Schenck isn’t so sure. Where some look at his work and see despair, Schenck sees beauty. “I think I’m an optimist at heart,” he says.
Two exhibits of Schenck’s work are on display at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, in San Marcos, through December. Schenck will sign copies of The Recurring Dream there on October 2 at 2 p.m.