Robert Natkin – Veil on the Infinite

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Open: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm

165 Worth Avenue, 33480, Palm Beach, United States
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm


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Robert Natkin – Veil on the Infinite

to Fri 3 Mar 2023

Artist: Robert Natkin

165 Worth Avenue, 33480 Robert Natkin – Veil on the Infinite

Mon-Sat 10am-6pm


Findlay Galleries presents an exhibition of works by Robert Natkin (1930-2010).

Artworks

Red Bern Series, 1983

Acrylic on canvas
1016 × 1524 mm
60 x 40 in.
FG© 140075

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Bath-Apollo Series, #764, 1979

Acrylic on canvas
1200.15 × 825.5 mm
32 1/2 x 47 1/4 in.
FG© 140129

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Apollo Series, 1967

Acrylic on canvas
1016 × 914.4 mm
36 x 40 in.
FG© 140231

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Redding View Series, 1975

Acrylic on canvas
987.425 × 593.725 mm
23 3/8 x 38 7/8 in.
FG© 140470

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Pharoah, 1966

Acrylic on canvas
1524 × 1524 mm
60 x 60 in.
FG© 140554

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Intimate Lighting-Danae, 1974

Acrylic on canvas
1524 × 1676.4 mm
66 x 60 in.
FG© 140560

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Bath Apollo no. 598, 1976

Acrylic on canvas
2641.6 × 2082.8 mm
82 x 104 in.
FG© 140561

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Iago March #1, 1971

Acrylic on canvas
1727.2 × 892.175 mm
35 1/8 x 68 in.
FG© 140625

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Bath Series, 1975

Acrylic on canvas
889 × 635 mm
25 x 35 in.
FG© 140626

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Intimate Lighting Series, 1975

Acrylic on canvas
1524 × 1016 mm
40 x 60 in.
FG© 140627

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Intimate Lighting Series, 1978

Acrylic on canvas
1143 × 863.6 mm
34 x 45 in.
FG© 140628

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Anticipation of the Night, 1985

Acrylic on canvas
2133.6 × 1822.45 mm
71 3/4 x 84 in.
FG© 140811

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Duke Ellington,

Acrylic on canvas
793.75 × 1079.5 mm
42 1/2 x 31 1/4 in.
FG© 140812

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Hitchcock Series, 1985

Acrylic on canvas
384.175 × 365.125 mm
14 3/8 x 15 1/8 in.
FG© 140889

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Untitled, Untitled

Acrylic on canvas
1524 × 1016 mm
42 x 60 in.
FG© 140900

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Bern Series, 1985

Acrylic on paper
1139.82 × 793.75 mm
31 1/4 x 44 7/8 in.
FG© 140230

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Hitchcock Series,

Acrylic on paper
746.125 × 577.85 mm
22 3/4 x 29 3/8 in.
FG© 140234

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Intimate Lighting Series, 1979

Acrylic on paper
584.2 × 768.35 mm
30 1/4 x 23 in.
FG© 140482

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Duke Ellington,

Acrylic on paper laid down on canvas
536.575 × 717.55 mm
28 1/4 x 21 1/8 in.
FG© 140516

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Hitchcock Series (#442A), 1984

Acrylic on paper
762 × 1054.1 mm
41 1/2 x 30 in.
FG© 140592

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Intimate Lighting Series, 1975

Acrylic on paper
762 × 558.8 mm
22 x 30 in.
FG© 140639

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Apollo Series, 1975

Acrylic on paper
1085.85 × 920.75 mm
36 1/4 x 42 3/4 in.
FG© 140790

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Bern Series, c.1978

Acrylic on paper
558.8 × 768.35 mm
30 1/4 x 22 in.
FG© 140806

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Dybbuk,

Acrylic on paper
698.5 × 1003.3 mm
39 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.
FG© 140909

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Evening, Hitchcock Series, 1987

Acrylic on paper
939.8 × 628.65 mm
24 3/4 x 37 in.
FG© 140910

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Talking at Night, 2000

Acrylic on paper
965.2 × 501.65 mm
19 3/4 x 38 in.
FG© 140911

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Hitchcock Series, 1980

Acrylic on paper
977.9 × 736.6 mm
29 x 38 1/2 in.
FG© 140925

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Hitchcock Series Sculpture,

Acrylic painted wood sculpture
1219.2 × 1003.3 mm
39 1/2 x 48 in.
FG© 140235

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Field Mouse Series,

Acrylic on Rives paper
736.6 × 635 mm
25 x 29 in.
FG© 140640

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Apollo Series, 1970

Oil on canvas
1219.2 × 1625.6 mm
64 x 48 in.
FG© 140716

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Hitchcock Series, 1980

Oil on canvas
1195.39 × 1195.39 mm
47 1/16 x 47 1/16 in.
FG© 140798

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Hitchcock Series, 1984

Oil on canvas
1473.2 × 939.8 mm
37 x 58 in.
FG© 140894

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Robert Natkin (1930-2010)

Described as the “author of a dappled infinite,” Robert Natkin created some of the most innovative color abstractions during the second half of the 20th century. Populated by stripes, dots, grids, and an array of free-floating forms, his light-filled canvases are sensuous, playful, and visually complex.


Born in Chicago to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry, Natkin began going to the movies (often six times a week) at five years old—an activity that would later profoundly influence his work as a painter. After moving with his family to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1945, Natkin decided to pursue a career as an artist. In 1948 Natkin returned to Chicago and attended art school at The Art Institute of Chicago. After studying the museum’s world-class collection of French post-impressionist art, Natkin turned his attention to painting. During these formative years (1948-1952), Natkin was inspired by the examples of Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, who used decorative patterning and arbitrary color to evoke mood. Most importantly, he discovered the work of Paul Klee, the Swiss-German artist whose whimsical, semi-abstract paintings reflected his belief that “art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible”––a credo that nurtured Natkin’s burgeoning interest in emotional content.


After his time at the Art Institute in Chicago, Natkin briefly moved to New York before spending several months in San Francisco. During his travels, he was exposed to the bold canvases of Willem de Kooning and other Abstract Expressionists, further deepening his interest in the art form. He returned to Chicago and, in 1954, began producing his earliest abstract work. He also met a young painter named Judith Dolnick (b. 1934), whom he married in 1957. The same year, Natkin and Dolnick opened a gallery in Chicago’s Old Town called The Wells Street Gallery. The gallery exhibited works by Natkin and Dolnick and other local artists, such as the sculptor John Chamberlain and the photographer Aaron Siskind, as well as painters from New York, including Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.


“Natkin is a visual poet whose apparently abstract images actually exist to enchant us with intimations and evocations of things we can sense but never quite see.”

– Theodore F. Wolff, The Many Masks of Modern Art


In 1959 Natkin and Dolnick moved to New York, where they aligned themselves with the Poindexter Gallery, known for its support of emerging painters and sculptors. Later that year, after seeing Natkin’s debut exhibition at the Poindexter Gallery, critic Dore Ashton praised the “bright, experimental boldness” of Natkin’s paintings and observed that he “obviously enjoys attacking a large canvas, filling its field with many forms and many colors, making them glide and slip, before and behind each other” (“Natkin’s Avant-Garde Paintings on View,” New York Times, January 7, 1960). Natkin’s reputation in Manhattan art circles was further enhanced when he was included in the Americans Under 35 exhibition, held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1960.


Immersed in the dynamism of the New York art world, where Abstract Expressionism and Color- Field painting were the dominant styles of the day, Natkin’s aesthetic approach continued to evolve. In 1961, he adopted a serial approach to painting, a practice he would adhere to throughout his career. In his earliest cycle, known as the Apollo series (which Natkin worked on intermittently into the early 1970s), he used vertical stripes of varying thicknesses and textures to suggest the interplay of color and light while creating a strong architectonic quality. During the mid-1960s––in response to the color theories of Josef Albers, contemporary jazz, and his admiration for Chicago architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan––Natkin retained the upright format of his Apollo paintings in his Straight Edge and Step canvases, imbuing them with a heightened sense of order and structure through the display of clearly defined areas of form and color.


Natkin embarked on his next thematic group, the Field Mouse series, in 1968. Based on Ezra Pound’s translation of a Chinese poem that dealt with the fleeting passage of time. The Field Mouse paintings represented a new stage in Natkin’s artistic evolution: moving away from the contemplative approach of the Apollo works, he developed a more intricate style (indebted to Klee), depicting diamonds, polygons, ovals, squiggles and other shapes against textured, delicately toned backgrounds interspersed with seemingly randomly placed dots and daubs of pigment and areas of crosshatching. The inclusion of several of Natkin’s luminous canvases from the Field Mouse series in an exhibition at Galerie Facchetti in Paris in 1968 was instrumental in bringing him to the attention of art aficionados in Europe.


In 1970, following a retrospective exhibition of his work at the San Francisco Museum of Art, Natkin and his family relocated to West Redding, Connecticut. One year later, while serving as artist-in-residence at the Kalamazoo Art Center in Michigan, Natkin put aside his brushes and began to use sponges soaked in acrylic paint and wrapped in pieces of cloth or netting, which he would apply to his support with different levels of pressure, a technique that enhanced the decorative quality of his paintings. 1971 also marked a pivotal moment in Natkin’s career in that he had the first of many one-man shows at the venerable André Emmerich Gallery in New York.


In the ensuing years, Natkin continued to develop his repertory of cyclical paintings, reviving older themes, such as his Apollo pieces, while exploring new subjects, as in his Bath and Color Bath paintings, which were inspired by the light and architecture he encountered on a visit to Bath, England, in 1974. The Bath paintings were executed in understated monochromatic tones, while the Color Bath paintings feature a range of soft-toned hues woven together to evoke a diaphanous curtain of light. In 1977, following his retrospective exhibition at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, Natkin visited the Paul Klee Foundation in Bern, Switzerland. Returning to America, he embarked on the Bern series, using rags and sponges (on both canvas and paper) to create spirited yet very intimate canvases featuring the geometric and biomorphic shapes of his earlier Field Mouse pictures, rendered now in strong, saturated primary colors, as well as black.


The Bern paintings were followed by the Hitchcock series a cycle in which he paid homage to the director, Alfred Hitchcock––a raconteur who, like Natkin, also used recurring themes and devices to express aspects of the human condition. As Leda Natkin Nelis has observed, her father had “long been a fan of Hitchcock’s films which teem with darker undertones and contradictions despite their entertaining surface plots. As the artist points out, the director succeeds in depicting and romanticizing man’s more somber side despite the playfulness of his films. Like Hitchcock, Natkin likes to interlock pleasure—and beauty––with mystery and paradox” (Leda Natkin Nelis, Bern & Hitchcock Series,” in Robert Natkin: A Retrospective: 1952–1966).


“Klee is my mother, Matisse is my father, Cezanne is my grandfather.”

– Robert Natkin


Natkin began the Hitchcock series during the early 1980s and continued to explore the theme for the remainder of his career. Taking his cue from Hitchcock’s practice of synthesizing different storylines into a cohesive narrative, Natkin sought to imbue his Hitchcock canvases with carefully considered arrangements of shapes that, as Carter Ratcliff has observed, lead “the viewer from one point to the next and the next, until the work is fully seen . . . In the ‘Hitchcock’ paintings . . . his forms show a heretofore-unseen inclination to settle into configurations evoking rather specific urban settings. Or forms flatten into patterns suggestive of maps with strong inclinations of the proper path for the eye to follow” (Ratcliff, “The Dappled Infinite”). These qualities–– as well as the vibrant chromaticism associated with the Hitchcock cycle–– can be found in works such as Hitchcock Series, 1980, in which seemingly weightless forms merge, mingle, and intersect with one another to evoke a sensation of joyous exuberance.


In 1981, Natkin was the subject of a major monograph written by the British art critic Peter Fuller, an early champion of his work. An inventive, energetic, and opinionated artist, Natkin also voiced his own thoughts about contemporary art, writing articles on painters ranging from Paul Klee and Arshile Gorky to Jasper Johns and Franz Kline for journals such as Modern Painters.


The subject of numerous one-man shows in America, Europe, and Japan, as well as a participant in numerous group exhibitions devoted to late-twentieth-century painting, Natkin died in Danbury, Connecticut, in 2010. Examples of his work can be found in major public collections throughout the United States and abroad, including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. In addition to his paintings, Natkin also left behind a colossal 20 x 42-foot mural, executed in 1992 for the lobby of 1211 Avenue of the Americas in New York’s Rockefeller Center.


Biographical essay by Carol Lowrey, Ph. D.


“Natkin entices viewers into his work through its decorative qualities, but, having done so, he offers much more than optical titillation.”

– Peter Fuller, Art Critic


all images © the gallery and the artist(s)


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