Paintings on Paper

I am now eighty years old and still going strong. I have been at it for over fifty five years, mostly making paintings in oil or acrylic, usually on #12 cotton duck. Store-bought stretchers. Canvases gessoed and sanded two or three times each. Eventual strip frames around them all. And then there were a few years of polychrome welded steel and even more than a decade of polychrome tinplate and wire sculptures which were especially well exhibited in New York City and elsewhere in the 1980’s. In all this, unless you are a very fortunate artist, you end up with a storage problem.

For three years now, I only paint on paper. It is a liberation! Arches Aquarelle cold pressed, heavy weight paper. Sizes: 16 x 20”, 22.5 x 30.5”, and now also 29.5 x 41”. It is a very direct and unencumbered involvement. It creates practically no storage problem at all. I have been doing about fifty a year and now have a gallery (Galerie Gris in Hudson, NY) that is crazy about them and tells me not to worry about framing. It will be taken care of. Great!

With each work there is no needed preparation before the first full ground of acrylic color. I do no preliminary drawings. I have total freedom until the first two or three colors/forms start to beg for something more difficult, and it then continues with intense concentration to when moves are finally needed outside of earlier presumptions as to where it may be going. Unfamiliarity becomes a necessity at the same time that a total visual resolve is demanded.

Yes. They are all abstract, some looking more structured and others more organic. But, the compositions are about reality….the reality of how everything falls into place as if having nothing to do with human intervention. It is all beyond me.

The Enclosure Series 2010-12

In this past year of recent painting I am continuing with my emphasis on color and placement, but, now, primarily, in the form of four long brush strokes of color paralleling the sides of the canvas. At times, this may suggest an enclosure or a doorway.

These works are small, usually from 14×16″ to 20×24″. The canvas is #12 cotton duck primed with two coats of gesso, followed by two coats of an acrylic ground color. This color also continues around the sides. Color for the long brush strokes is mixed from tubes on a white glass palette and remains quite thick when applied to the canvas. Brushes used are half inch to three inch hardware store bristle brushes. There is a physicality here that is difficult to sense in reproductions.

The relationship of one stroke to another usually creates an overlap in the corners. I try to disregard the spatial offerings of what is above and what is below at these corners and concentrate only on color choices relevant to the other colors that are there. Corners become whatever they become. There is no manipulative drawing or fussiness to make little changes as to what is overlapping what. The full color stroke is not to be messed with. The spatial whatevers of corner overlaps seem to always come out just fine, as if all by themselves.

It is rare that I come up with a “one shot” terrific painting. An initial color choice often needs to be overpainted in order to put out of balance the more obvious first relationships. I then find myself in unexpected territory from which I must eventually find an equally unfamiliar but satisfying resolve.

The Following is a Longer History of My Work

It was in 1980 that I left studio teaching at the School of the Worcester Art Museum and moved to Manhattan for a full–time commitment to my work. I was forty three. It might have been too late, but my commitment to my new polychrome tinplate and wire sculptures was very strong. The response was good. Four pieces were shown in a 1981 summer show at Marlborough Gallery, and shortly thereafter I became represented by the Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer Gallery (closed in mid 90’s) with four shows there in the 1980’s and, with their help, had exhibitions in London, Hamburg, Zurich, Tokyo, Osaka, Toronto, and Montreal.

By 1990 I had moved up here to the North-West Corner of Connecticut. A transition was in the air. Something not quite resolved in my early years as a painter? It became an unexpected move into narrative figure painting which was exhibited in New York at both Dillon and Kouros galleries, along with other fine shows here in Connecticut. But, it was in late 2005 when, with some amusement, I became disenchanted with the human species, at least enough so that I lost interest in continuing to paint it. I did not feel that a return to sculpture was in the air, but I did love my memory of seeing my work on those clean, white, gallery pedestals. That presence.

My sense of things in space became expressed, at this point, in imaginary still life, some of which were shown in late ’07 in a one person show at Zabriskie Gallery. Things in the paintings were not presented on tables or shelves, but on pedestal tops. No drapery. This work continued to late 2008, with a few of them having some elements that floated in space above the pedestal tops. It did not seem, at first, that this was some sort of abstraction. Circular forms, floating. Perhaps surreal.

Then, it happened. No more pedestal tops. Things floating became frontal. I had crossed over, again, in painting, to what I was about in the earlier 1980’s with my multi- color sculptures, and, even evoking earlier color influences that go back to my teaching painting at Bennington College for two exceptional years in the late 1960ʼs.

To be more specific, what has come to the fore, through the work with still-life, has been my concern for simple placement, along with a renewed embrace of color. For most of 2009 this was expressed by working with a minimum of color circles (the floating elements) on a color ground. Sometimes a changing of color on this or that would be needed. A resolve could be had through either a “one shot″ work or one that involved many color changes, and it could be difficult to know which was which, when done. In late 2009, working with color circles moved into color stick possibilities which embraced not just placement but possible structural concerns. A length of color on a color ground. A celebration of the single brush stroke. The physicality of it. Some editing that, unlike with the circles, may be a bit off from what was underneath. And it feels very good. All of which has lead to color structures from the loaded brush in what might be called a “post and lintel” series. A discipline maintained, but with openness. I have no idea where this is going.

Robert Cronin    2011

Earlier Work