Monday, October 12, 2015

Robert Natkin

Robert Natkin (1930-2010)
Untitled, 1957 (74" X 86")

It's hard for me to believe that the heroic painting shown above remained unsold and stashed away in the artist's studio until now.

It's also hard for me to believe that the artist was 27 when he painted it.

But the world of art is full of surprises.

Not that I am recommending its dismemberment, but it could be cut down into about a dozen wonderful paintings.

Every area seems to open up endless vistas of  delight.- much like Kandinsky's Campbell panels, painted 40 years earlier.

And it seems like an exhaustive catalog of what kinds of things look good with each other.

Most amazing, of course, is that all these wonderful details fit together into a very large space.

How did the painter sustain so much focus?

Apparently he would soon require psychotherapy -- possibly to recover from the expense of so much manic energy.

Willem De Kooning's Excavation was installed in the Art Institute in 1952, and apparently this large piece (81" X 100")  was an important influence on this Chicago artist.

But Natkin's painting seems driven by the thrill of beauty rather than anxiety and compulsion.  Unfortunately, that must not have appealed to buyers of contemporary art, in either Chicago or New York, during that period.

This is a work from the early 1950's - when the artist had just graduated from the Art Institute..

I would not have minded if he continued to bring Matisse to the Midwest - but he soon abandoned that project.

Here's another piece from the mid to late fifties. There is a greater feeling of effort and struggle.  It appears that the artist was trying not to do the same painting twice.

Here's another large one from 1957 (102" X 80")

I don't know which large painting was done before the other - but some large shapes in this one seem to be looming - as if to suggest impending trouble.

It's hard to be an impecunious young person with big dreams.

Here's the artist standing beside it.

What a fine young man!

1958 - pastel

I love how the emptiness of  that big lasso shape sets off the entire design.

There seems to be an endless - and successful - experimentation with varieties of mark making.


All it needs is a few figures to become a mythopoetic scene.


This is the kind of  show that makes me appreciate the gallery that presented it even more.

If Thomas McCormick did not have a gallery -- not only this show, but this entire genre of mid-century ABX would likely not be shown in Chicago  today - just as early 20th C. Chicago landscape painting disappeared from view when R.H. Love Gallery closed its doors.


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