Rick Shaefer’s “Refugee Trilogy” Draws Upon Old Masters

 In MOA Features

Guest Post by Megan Mayfield, MOA Marketing Intern

Théodore Géricault, “The Raft of the Medusa” (detail), 1818-1819, oil on canvas, Collection of The Louvre.

In the new BYU MOA exhibition Refugee Trilogy, artist Rick Shaefer illustrates the plight of refugees as they leave their homes in search of somewhere safe. Shaefer tackles this theme through three large-scale triptych pieces. Inspired by the classical styles of Rubens and Gericault, the scenes Shaefer creates have a distinctly classic feel and drama to them. The centerpiece of the trilogy, Water Crossing, illustrates a popular artistic scene that has been utilized by artists for centuries to demonstrate the struggle of man.
Inspired by Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa and Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Water Crossing encompasses the same futile struggle of man versus nature. By borrowing compositionally and thematically from the Raft of the Medusa and Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Shaefer alludes to some help that might come to the refugees he depicts in his drawing. In the Raft of the Medusa, Gericault paints in the Argo, the ship that saved the survivors of the raft, in the background of the work. Rembrandt paints Christ beginning to calm to storm, after being woken up. In both works, there is implied survival and salvation, a convention that Shaefer doesn’t outright utilize in his Water Crossing scene.

Rembrandt, Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Rembrandt, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” 1633, oil on canvas.

Instead, the refugees appear to be left alone in their struggle on the sea. Their ship is tossed with unforgiving waves and the storm they are caught in continues in the background of the work. There doesn’t seem to be any help coming for the ship, but Shafer may be implying that help is already onboard. Though many of the individuals on the vessel already seem to have lost hope, there are still individuals wrestling the ropes and the mainsail of the storm-tossed ship. They are working to save those who can’t help themselves.
The ship, tossed in unforgiving waves and surrounded by storms on all sides can be seen as a microcosm of the world we live in. Shaefer makes it known where he believes salvation comes from. It doesn’t come from a ship in the distance, but from those who are able-bodied and have the means to help those that cannot help themselves.

Refugee Trilogy will be on display at the BYU Museum of Art through September 29, 2018.

If you’re interested in how you can get more involved with the refugee crisis in Utah County and in your community, please visit these sites:
I Was a Stranger
Utah Community & Refugee Partnership Center, Provo
Lifting Hands International
Utah Valley Refugee Action Network, Provo
United Way of Utah County

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