This October, David Lusk Gallery showcases 45 years of paintings on paper by Robert Rector. Featuring balanced, geometric textures alongside those with washes of color with zips and streaks, Paper: 45 Years evaluates Rector’s extensive abstract painting career. Thick blocks of color and gestural marks slashed across the surface create a tension in each composition not unlike two opposing sides of human nature: the ordered and rational, the instinctive and spontaneous.
The Large Worlds of Robert Rector’s Smaller Works by Fredric Koeppel An artist’s field of vision runs both directions, from interior to the outside world, from the world back into the interior. What artists make of those psychic, emotional and intellectual lines of connection depends on their temperaments, their aesthetic aspirations and the material they work in, as well as other, more elusive qualities -- their confidence, their self-consciousness, and their faith in the creative endeavor.
Robert Rector’s work brims with these essential characteristics, yet the present collection of works on paper covering a 30-year span reveals an artist experimentally extending his technique and practice, his judgment and intuition, expanding on forays into what the English Romantic poet John Keats defined as “negative capability,” that is, the capacity to work in uncertainty and doubt while maintaining the momentum of commitment and energy.
As a snapshot of Rector’s career, these pieces reflect in miniature -- and not so small -- the general tendencies of his work: a propensity toward bold, expressive color; a belief in the transcendent values of abstraction; and a dedication to the assertive nature of the divided self.
The nature of color is to reflect back to our eyes the reality of its own being. Subtracted from realistic depiction in abstraction, color forces us to accept its individual substantiality, independent of traditional markers and indicators, and innocent of symbolism. We depend, then, on the artist’s intuitive insight into the relationship among color, gesture and form to imbue a work of art with the dynamic of ambiguity and meaning, however opaque and provocative those qualities may be.
Robert Rector, born in 1946 and living in Louisiana most of his life, possesses a fierce dedication to the lack of implication of color divorced from the stability of allusion or signification. The earliest pieces in this exhibition, though small in scale, evince a blocky, monolithic aura in steady monochromatic or muted hues.
We sense the artist working through ideas not only of color and structure but of energy and stasis. Several of these works -- all acrylic on paper -- as they get larger display more gestural material, though some are startlingly plain, even stark. Sequentially, Rector employs more color, often in contrasting hues that both dazzle and puzzle our eyes with their compressed, telegraphic and sensual character.
The point is that throughout this series, viewers are allowed to see a mind at work, not only technically but spontaneously, and it’s instructive to see how the artist circles back, perhaps unconsciously, perhaps deliberately, to motifs that occupied him years ago. Each abstraction creates its own world, however, and begs to be considered by itself rather than in the context of a body of work, however much the critic desires to take the long view.
A constant motif, though, is Rector’s deepening concern for the meditative value of abstraction and his ability to convey the sense of inevitability necessary for viewers to accept the notion of non-representation. These are the qualities that extend themselves into the viewer’s consciousness, not only in Rector’s large and frequently dramatic paintings but in these smaller, more economically handled works.
The expression of content in abstraction need be no more than the revelation -- through color, form and gesture -- of a sense of tension and, perhaps, resolution, or of stasis that reaches a level of transcendent contemplation. Rector’s career has flourished in exploring this esthetic and psychological territory. Particularly relevant is the recurring theme of the dichotomy, the division into two parts that registers as a potent reflection of human nature and the artistic principle.
Half of these pieces feature a vertical dividing line, usually off-center, that vigorously and definitively expresses the stress of consciousness, the emotional and intellectual strain of reconciling opposites. We could call these dichotomies visionary theaters that offer a vivid contrast between restraint and passion, almost between classicism and romanticism.
In such manner, with almost Puritanical devotion, Rector cajoles viewers into a mood of speculative deliberation that seeks to harmonize what seems to be the incongruity of surface, mood, hue and gesture. Not for nothing is a rector an administrative ecclesiastical post.
But let’s not impute motives or feelings to the artist. Let’s assert also -- or at least hope -- that he’s having fun, that he’s testing, advancing, retreating, committing errors and converting them to victories, surprising himself as well as the viewer. Not only possible but probable. It’s all there in the work.