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Robert Kushner
-Treasures, Souvenirs, Memories-
New Collages

Yoshiaki Inoue Gallery, Osaka, Japan

Wednesday, October 1  -  Saturday, October 25, 2014

 Artist Talk: Friday, October 24, 5-6pm. Reception to follow.  


Treasures, Souvenirs, Memories

One of the claims made for collage when it was first introduced by the Cubist painters in 1912 was that it rooted the art works firmly to their present time.  By simply reading the stories in the newspaper glued to the canvas, you could know what the news of the world was at the exact moment in time when the collage was made. Since then collage has gone in so many unpredictable directions scooping up realms of both meaning and disjuncture by Dada, Surrealist and Pop artists among others.  But in my personal hierarchy of great collagists,  I love to picture Kurt Schwitters strolling the streets of Hannover  picking up odd scraps of discarded paper and then weaving them into his transcendent abstract compositions.  Or American artist Anne Ryan taking us to silent, still realms with her unique assemblages of paper and cloth. Or Lenore Tawney, creator of visionary poetry through collage,  is often looking over my shoulder, even so far as my having inherited pages from some of her favorite 18th Century books. In many ways I am trying to do the opposite of the Cubists: instead of tying my pieces to one point in time, I want to make them as diffused and  confusing as possible. I want the viewer to time travel as broadly as possible. And so I include papers from as many languages, cultures, times, and places as I can which become a part of the content of the work.  In all likelihood  no one individual could  read all the languages in each collage. Instead of concrete cognition we arrive at a mist of unknowing.

At the beginning of this series, I wanted the texts and images to be neutral. I was not very concerned with exact content. Rather I wanted their age and exoticism of the papers to create a kind of nostalgic ambiance, not to evoke any one time in particular, but to connote “other”.  Gradually, I  have come to be more autobiographical with the materials. I have started to include pieces of ephemera that meant something to me, that marked significant places or events alongside found texts the content of which I had no grasp. In “Columbine” (pictured above),  I combined the entry ticket to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the ticket for Alvar Aalto’s Experimental House outside of Helsinki, a scrap from a 1902 edition of the Osaka Yomiuri Shinbun, saved from the inside of a Japanese screen that I had dissected, along with another piece of paper announcing:  “Treasures, Souvenirs, Memories”.

I enjoy juxtaposing illustrations and diagrams from the 1914 Encyclopedia Britannica, postage stamps that I saved as a teen ager, but never got around to pasting into my stamp album, pages from 19th Century lady’s magazines, dictionaries, music, Japanese woodblock books.

One Arabic text  is a handwritten copy of an old  treatise entitled “Useful Information”.  While this book about navigation must have contained masses of essential and practical knowledge  for  15th Century sailors, it is probably pretty irrelevant to today’s world even if we could read the Medieval Arabic. In fact, nearly all these precious pieces of paper are slightly extraneous in one way or another. Some are in languages most of us cannot read. Some are popular songs that will rarely be sung again. There are currencies no longer in use. Legal documents from countries that no longer exist. Or century old diagrams of technological advances that today read as quaint.  In the end each scrap is beautiful to me.  These diverse facts become a sea of untold and irrecoverable stories upon which a single flower hovers.

Robert Kushner, August 2014

Yoshiaki Inoue Gallery
2F 3F Shinsaibashi Inoue Bldg.,
1-3-10 Shinsaibashi-suji, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0085 JAPAN
Gallery hours : 11:00 – 19:00.  Closed on Sunday and public holidays.
Tel. +81(0)6-6245-5347
Fax. +81(0)6-6252-0402
info@gallery-inoue.com
 

 

Blue Succulents_72x72                                                                       Robert Kushner, Blue Succulents, 72x72inches, 2014

I think that I learned to rely on concept from a very early age.  As a child, I was never very good at coloring inside the lines. I remember coloring with my second grade friend David Jackson.  David always got a lot of credit for his really cool Crayola work.  Somehow he could color with a totally even half tone AND get the edges slightly darker so that the forms looked vaguely rounded. He never ever went outside the lines. As much as I tried to emulate his technique, I invariably deposited gross blobs of color well beyond the printed boundaries.  This disturbing realization of my technical incompetence occurred some time in the mid 1950s. My mother, Dorothy Browdy Kushner, a devout Abstract Expressionist painter, reassured me that my friend displayed no meaningful creativity to his seemingly enormous skill (and by implication, I obviously did, as manifest by the expressionistic handling of my crayons). The real trick of art, she asserted, was having a creative approach.  Dare we say, a conceptual one?

Duly inspired, I asked my second grade teacher, Miss Lamb, whether I could have a “one man show.”   This was what I observed my mother and her friends hoping for from the local gallerists.   Being kind, but evidently unaware of art world conventions, she asked me what that meant?  I said that it meant that she had to take down everyone else’s artwork and put up only mine. To my surprise, Miss Lamb agreed to my request; however, my solo show could remain hanging only one day.  I was thrilled but I remember the feeling, one I still often have, that I just did not have enough work for my show!  I even remember dashing off one more Crayola version of irises in our garden. Interestingly, a subject that still inspires me today.   I have no idea what the response of my classmates might have been.  David Jackson probably found it hopelessly messy.  In retrospect, was this a case of unabashed egotism at a shockingly early onset? Probably. But it seems to have created an interesting momentum.

My mother’s dictum about originality has served me well.  At this point, I often look at art that is technically perfect and I genuinely (sometimes enviously) respect the skill involved in its execution.  But without underlying ideas and concepts the finest execution can become shallow and empty.  Art is a little odd that way.  Often the idea is so closely linked to the visual expression, that there is no real way to put this interaction into words. We can try, but ultimately, it is the work of the hand and the reaction of the eye that becomes the content of such work. Today’s armies of neo conceptualists rely on the successful translatability of their ideas into critical discourse.  But isn’t it more satisfying to encounter art where the idea only reveals itself through close scrutiny?  This visual decoding does not leave out the mind. Once the eye has perceived the concept, the mind can return to it repeatedly and expand on its implications to the viewer’s continuing satisfaction.

To me, the most interesting art is that where there is a clear, usually idiosyncratic conceptualization which then leads the artist to more acute observation of the chosen subject matter. Once I decided to concentrate on the outlines of the flower and an acceptance of the decorative (rather than trying to depict volume through shading for instance), I began to observe edges much more carefully, my drawing improved and I was led to further, more complex considerations.

Nature can be depicted as marvelous, inspirational, captivating, scintillating. As artists, we experience our world as full of wonder and meaning.  It is then up to each of us to find a paradigm that showcases our innate skills and minimizes our weaknesses.  Often this requires some fancy footwork. But ultimately most of us find a way to a successful result, a conceptualization.  Then the question becomes even more interesting.  How can we take that initial formulation and keep reinventing it to yield ever new and interesting returns?  Success in this part of the venture seems to me the sign of a true artist.

Robert Kushner

 

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Last January, I was invited to work with master printer Bud Shark in his Hawaii studio in Holualoa on the Big Island.  I had worked there with Bud before, but this time we both wanted to something new and  different. Basing our project on some of our studio experiments in Lyons, Colorado, and on the on-going explorations that I have been pursuing in my own studio, I arrived with a box full of old papers and a mind full of ideas.  Engraved ilustrations from an 1810 book on physiognomy, old postage stamps, pages of a diary found on the street, Japanese woodblock prints, a 19th century dictionary and pages and scraps of ephemera the origins of which are sometimes unknown to me.  We made a series of collages combining as diverse an assortment of papers as possible in each image. Then we began monotyping. I drew with lithographic inks on a plexiglass sheet, which was then printed directly on each collage. I could then re draw the original image and drop it on another collage, and then go back and rework the first. In short, it was a flurry of wonderful, artistic activity.

Here is one of the images: Lemon I.

To see more of them, please visit sharksink.com where you can see examples of many of the other monotypes.

 

“It is for him as if there can never be enough beauty, as if there were never a place where nor a time when beauty has not potentially existed, and as if there can never be enough expressions of it.”  — Kaikodo Journal, March, 2014

Each year, Kaikodo Gallery has a spring show. It opens during Asia Week (March 14-22, 2014) in New York City. For the show, they publish a thoroughly researched book, Kaikodo Journal, in which each exhibited piece has a detailed article about it. While they show historical material mostly from China and Japan, I was one of several contemporary artists asked to make something for the exhibition this year. This is a remarkable essay and  a wonderful summation of my philosophy.

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Robert Kushner, White Peonies: A Cumulus Accumulation, 2013

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Painting Entry 20-2_edited-1

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Painting Entry 20-3

14 08

Quinces
oil, acrylic, gold leaf on canvas
84″x60″
2014

To be shown next season at DC Moore Gallery. Date to be announced.

Robert Kushner’s “Wedding Dress” (1976) featured in the “New York Times,” 1.16.14

January 18, 2014

“A Dealer’s Eye, and Life: ‘Hooray for Hollywood!’ Recalls Holly Solomon’s Eye for Art” by Roberta Smith The New York Times, January 16, 2014 In her article, Roberta Smith covers “Hooray for Hollywood!,” an expansive exhibit at two adjacent New York galleries, Pavel Zoubok and Mixed Greens that celebrate the eclectic eye of ‘Pop princess,’ collector, […]

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Robert Kushner | Paintings 2010-2013 & The Four Seasons at the Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH | 1.10.14 – 4.12.14

January 9, 2014

  Robert Kushner’s exhibition at Carl Solway Gallery includes paintings from 2010 to the present, a small selection of prints and The Four Seasons, four large-scale paintings recently removed from Cincinnati’s Tower Place. The works feature his signature botanical subjects, often set against backgrounds of richly textured geometric patterns. In 1990, Robert Kushner was commissioned […]

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“Silk & Cotton” by Susan Meller

December 19, 2013

Susan Meller and her robust, profound, abiding love of textiles first crossed my radar in 1991 when I was asked by Artforum to review her astonishing book:  Textile Designs: Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns Organized by Motif, Style, Color, Layout, and Period by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers (Harry N. Abrams, 1991, 2002). It is […]

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The Gramercy Tavern’s “Cornucopia” Mural

October 30, 2013

The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook by Chef Michael Anthony has just published! Gramercy Tavern is a sophisticated fine-dining restaurant in the Flatiron District of Manhattan—and this is a fabulously mouth-watering, much-anticipated cookbook. I am honored that my twenty panel mural, Cornucopia (1993-1994), commissioned for the restaurant by Gramercy Tavern owner, Danny Meyer, figures within the pages of […]

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We Are Not Begonias. We Come Back.

September 5, 2013

      Maine. So far away. So unknown (at least to me). Yet, once experienced, delightful and seductive. So many artists wax rhapsodic when it comes to Maine and art making. Yet for me, it was a land of limited and distant associations. My primary association with Maine dates back to when my mother […]

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