Exposition Art Blog: Robert Sterling Neuman

Robert Sterling Neuman

Robert Sterling Neuman (9 September, 1926 – 20 June 2015) was an American abstract painter and print maker and an art teacher.Neuman was born and raised in the small mining town of Kellogg, Idaho, as the only child of Katherine Samuelson and Oscar Neuman. He is of German-American and Swedish descent. Neuman's passion for the arts blossomed early in his childhood. The artist's parents owned a small hardware store where drafting and painting materials were easily "borrowed" by Neuman to paint the nearby scenic Western vistas. While attending the local high school, Neuman was permitted to take the school's only art course three times at the insistence of his mother.

 Neuman's career as an artist spanned over sixty years, with a resulting body of work that "defies traditional expectations of what an artist's canon should look like". As an artist, he took "a staunchly individualistic approach to his work by never giving in to fads, the demands of the commercial sector or bowing before the critics". Instead, his body of work is characterized by extended series of paintings that explore a particular motif or symbol and are heavily influenced by events in the artist’s own life, in addition to global culture and history.At the beginning of his artistic career, Neuman's work followed in the vein of traditional Abstract Expressionism. Later on, although Neuman continued to use abstract forms in his work and to define himself as an Expressionist, he focused more on the use of symbols in his work. His unique approach to abstract painting prompted former Boston Globe art critic Robert Taylor, to refer to Neuman's works as "emblematic abstraction”.Neuman's style is additionally distinguished by his uncompromisingly bold color palette that is reminiscent of Klee, Miró, Seurat, Kandinsky and early 20th century German Expressionists. These bold washes of color are often juxtaposed with graphical, geometric forms influenced by his love of drawing. Neuman frequently incorporates pencil into his works "to define the edges of otherwise illimitable suffusions of color".Another important technique that Neuman incorporates is the inclusion of stamping and taping off areas to define planes of space. As his career progressed, such use of mixed media techniques and collage became more common.

 Neuman has worked on 16 series of paintings, including his earliest and most recent works, each representing a response to a different symbol, place or idea in a distinct visual language. His earliest works reflect post-war America and are filled with ominous and dark titles and color palettes. Neuman explored this theme by experimenting with different medium, such as duco paint and sand on masonite and a new, abstracted subject matter. Neuman's first major series was The Black Paintings. This series was catalyzed by his experience studying in a still war- ravaged Germany as a Fulbright Fellow in 1953 under the tutelage of German Expressionist, Willi Baumeister. The Black Paintings’ uncharacteristically dark color palette was influenced by "the reactionary impulses to World War II that had rippled through the art world". Today, The Black Paintings serve as a glimpse into the lingering desolation of Germany in the 1950s by one of the few American artists to witness it first-hand.
After The Black Paintings, Neuman began exploring the expressive nature of color. This dramatic shift was influenced by his time studying in Barcelona as a Guggenheim Fellow. His Barcelona Series, begun in 1956, is defined by his attempts to create a universally relevant style of art, which, in this case, captured his impressions of the motion and light of the narrow streets of Old Barcelona. With the advent of the 1960s, Neuman explored the potential of abstraction more fervently than ever. During this decade, he created his Abstract Landscape, Abstract Figures and his Diamond Canvas Series before experimenting further with the use of symbols

 In 1977, August Heckscher, a friend, print maker and commissioner of New York City public parks, commissioned a series of etchings from Neuman to accompany an edition of Sebastian Brandt's Shyp of Fools. The series is composed of richly evocative mixed media drawings, lithographs, etchings and printing plates that depict meticulously rendered medieval barques and their crews on ill-fated voyages to Paradise. "Each work mirrors— with irony, optimism and a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor— Brandt's own commentaries on the follies and foibles of man". In 1979, Neuman returned to Spain on a wedding trip with his wife, Sunne Savage, and visited the Alhambra palace. The Alhambra series "evokes the atmosphere of the exotic landmark and translates the ethereal rays of light that ripple through its halls into cascades of color"
In 1980, Neuman began the Lame Deer Series. Lame Deer was inspired by a visit to a Native American reservation close to the Battle of Little Big Horn in Lame Deer, Montana. Visiting the historic site spurred Neuman to visually relate the Western American landscape in a way he felt had not been done before. History is hidden in each vividly chromatic landscape where the most prominent symbol is the teepee— each has the skin stripped away, and resembles "…drawings on a cave wall, remnants of a people continually in flight.” Ultimately, the Lame Deer series was meant to bring attention to the plight of the Native Americans. As the 1980s progressed, Neuman explored new avenues of visual expression. His Rose Paintings, begun in 1982, are monochromatic, sumptuous and textural landscapes, using the applied technique of tachisme. Meanwhile, the Voyage Series, begun in 1986, saw Neuman exploring the symbolism of knots, often seen in Celtic, Viking and Moorish art, as a metaphor for travelling through life.Neuman's new works, created during the 1990s to present day, are a visual melting pot of many of his earlier series including Alhambra, Barcelona and Rose Paintings. The gestural compositions and broad flat panes of color look back to his earliest days as an Abstract Expressionist. Each work is still distinct from what has come before and begins to define what will come next..Wikipedia

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