My last post provided a short summary of the productive practice of Robert Kushner, one of the founders of The Pattern and Decoration Movement in the US in the 1970's. This follow- up digs more deeply into his working process and influences and I hope to shed light on my interest in pattern and decoration and how it has influenced my work.
Kushner's recognizable large blocks of colour, lavish applications of paint, delicate drawings, and decorative elements of gold and silver leaf are found to varying degrees in his work from the late 1980's onward.
One of his more recent series was created on Japanese screens, a process inspired by his first trip to Japan where he saw ancient gilded doors that still remained vital after 400 years. He was also influenced by Asian brushwork and exaggerated horizontal formats. He comments that his use of used screens and doors as a background helps him "relish the history of use, damage and restoration that ultimately became incorporated into the image". Kushner’s travels instilled in him the conviction, he says, that his work is “a slight update of a vast conservative tradition” that doesn’t have borders.
Gathering (2004) oil , acrylic, gold and silver leaf on Japanese Screen
Bellas Artes Gallery
While I did not know Kushner's work until much later in life, the route to appreciation of it began with Matisse, Klimt and O' Keeffe. I saw my first Matisse pieces at 19 , a year before I began to paint. I was particularly attracted to the patterned pieces and came home from New York with the initial book that was the start of an extensive art library. Klimt came later in a second- hand book store and I pored over the various designs which were lavishly adorned with opulent golds and intricate designs. O' Keeffe showed me the essence of flowers by filling the picture plane through adjustments in scale. I loved her pull of the viewer's gaze, that in your face, don't ignore me attitude. These three artists caused me to think about content and techniques that interested me. Their works built on my immersion in the "female arts" that were an important part of my formative years.
One of the aspects of Kushner's work I study carefully is his use of colour. Sometimes it is controlled to the point of being almost monochromatic. This colour use can produce a piece that is delicate and calm or....
the piece can be dark and somewhat ominous.
DC Moore Gallery
My work with a few exceptions has been in a very somber phase since 9/11. A lot of dark, sober colors, and a seriousness of intention. I try to make many of my paintings look like ancient survivors from a vanished unknown era.
I certainly feel this when I look at Trudy's Garden.
Kushner sometimes used chance to determine his compositional structure. I recently found out on Kathy's site that Jan Arp was the first artist to propose this approach to composition when designing collage. To determine the exact placement of flowers in his large screen works, Kushner made a set of small paper squares each with an arrow drawn on it. Then he one particular flower and decides how many times he wants it to appear in the painting and then stands on a ladder, drops the squares on the screen and marks the spot with an arrow showing the direction the flower will face. The process is then repeated for each additional flower. I think I would find it very difficult to let go of compositional control in this way but it certainly works for Kushner creating great energy and movement in his screen works.
When asked in an interview for EuroArt if he considered his work erotic or if it was labelled such by other, Kushner responded:
I have always thought that my flowers were extremely erotic, a reflection in some ways of my personality. But not all people seem to notice the eros. Beyond our cultural associations, say with red roses for a lover or striped tulips as a signifier for tulip mania, in reality, the flower is the only reproductive, sexual moment for the entire plant. And that sexual moment is extremely brief, perhaps a few days. Thinking of this, I always show the "body parts" of the flowers, the stamens, the pistils as I find them always interesting.
In 2005 Kushner created “Spring Scatter Summation”, in the Great Room at Wystariahurse Museum in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The catalogue essay written by Peter Eleey notes that: “Maybe decorative painting can be an instrument through which we can harmonize the energies within and around us? Almost in spite of the horrors of the world, there remains a place to go, there is a refuge. There is, certainly, this room.”
I see Kushner's work as a visual respite from what goes on around me. They pull me in to the rhythms of nature and hold me in that world where I move around and around . Even the more vibrant and chaotic ones have this calming effect on me the more I look at them. As I stated before pattern of every type eventually calms me. That is one of its greatest appeals. Applied pattern more evident in his newest work, where he uses cultural patterns with the pattern created by flower constructions added a new dimension to his work that really calls to me. This connection between the nature and culture is something that I have consistently examined in my work for the last several years.
12 Red Emperors (2008) oil, acrylic gold, silver and copper leaf on canvas.
DC Moore Gallery
I will finish as I began with one of his stunning work focusing on a single flower. I don't want you to think all his work is intricate, his simple compositions presenting one flower are commanding in their beauty and simplicity.
Lavender Iris (2001) oil, acrylic, glitter, gold leaf on Kakishibi Paper
Does my work look like Kushner's? The answer is no, but he has certainly influenced and supported my interests in pattern and the natural world. I have learned much about composition especially from his single flower compositions.
To see more of Kushner's work check him out on Artnet.
There is so much more to say about this artist's work. I am interested in hearing from my readers in response to what I have posted. That is where real learning occurs for me.