Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From Jazz to Quarks

“Jay Robinson seeks to engage the vital aesthetic issues of his time in his art.
Paul Manoguerra - Curator of American Art at the Georgia Museum of Art (2001 -2012)

Around the time of his 80th birthday, the American abstract artist Jay Robinson’s studio burned to the ground with only one of his earlier unsold works surviving. Undeterred the octogenarian artist rebuilt his studio and continued on with his life’s work although the influence for his work changed from an earlier interest in jazz music and the lives of his people to his later interest in molecular physics and constellations.

As the curator for his current exhibition, William U. Eiland, told ARTFIX daily “This exhibition celebrates a long life devoted to art and things of the spirit. The works on view literally ‘rose from the ashes’ of a terrible studio fire, a time when the artist changed direction and rediscovered his muse. We are fortunate, indeed, that he never despaired of art’s power to restore and to provoke, in short, to complete life.”

Robinson had his first New York solo exhibition in 1948, about which the New York Times reviewer Aline B. Louchheim is said to have written, “[he had] a facility which allows him to move from a simplified realism in landscaped views to an imaginative semi-abstraction for his interpretation of jazz themes." 

About these works Robinson wrote in a 1987 letter to the collector Jason Schoen “Many times I made sketches -- mainly of the players, the surroundings of the place where they were playing, and the instruments; but mainly it was all in my mind and memory. Then I could compose the scene as I got to painting and let everything take a natural course so as to be spontaneous, like the music itself."

In 1950 Robinson traveled to Africa on Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship and upon his return concentrated his efforts in depicting the life in his native Kentucky. As can be seen from his 1954 painting The Coal Miner (see below) his interest in abstraction had taken a firm hold.

About the works from this period he has said “This composition is not intended as a chart but as semi-description, a semi-abstract scene of an aspect of life." And of another “It is strictly a mood piece, trying to convey the somber mood of the hills and people way back in."

As Paul Manoguerra wrote about Robinson’s work from this time “His works proclaim his fundamental concern with conveying meaning through constructive order and abstraction. Robinson's paintings, drawings, mixed media constructions, and sculptures reflect his instinctive feeling for his environment and enrich our experience with the genuine aura of Africa, small Kentucky towns, and the New York jazz scene.”

Robinson’s current, post studio fire, works are more in touch with the cosmos although the influence of Paul Klee is clearly evident.

Jay Robinson: Quarks, Leptons and Peanuts exhibition is currently on show at the Georgia Museum of Art until the 21st of June.

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