Catalogue to the gallery exhibition of the same name, September 28–November 11, 2017.
Described as the “author of a dappled infinite,” Robert Natkin (1930–2010) created some of the most innovative color abstractions of the late-twentieth century. Populated by stripes, dots, grids, and an array of free-floating forms, his light-filled canvases are sensuous, playful, and visually complex, representing “a unique formal universe of unparalleled beauty.” Hirschl & Adler Modern is honored to present And the Days Are Not Full Enough, a career-encompassing exhibition and the artist’s first with the gallery. Important examples from each of Natkin’s major bodies of work are on view to celebrate the artist’s fifty-year commitment to pushing beyond the rigid boundaries of form and brushstroke and into the realm of what the artist himself referred to as the “inner narrative” of a work.
Loosely arranged in chronological order, And the Days Are Not Full Enough allows the cyclical nature of Natkin’s career to be understood. The painterliness of early works like Warfare and Yours and Mine owe much to the popularity of Abstract Expressionism, however it is evident even in these early paintings that the artist’s talent lies in his arrangement of color. Presented alongside those more expressionistic canvases are examples of Natkin’s next two bodies of work, the Apollo and the Straight Edge & Step series. Gone are the free-form, improvisational strokes of the late 1950s, replaced by more rigid divisions of space. Also noticeable is Natkin’s heightening sense of color and light, which become a major focus in his next series, the Field Mouse paintings. Begun in 1968 and based on a poem by Ezra Pound which deals with the fleeting nature of time, the Field Mouse paintings represented a new stage in Natkin’s development: moving away from the cool and contemplative approach of the Apollo works and toward a more intricate style. Indebted to the artist Paul Klee, the Field Mouse paintings depict diamonds, polygons, ovals, squiggles and other shapes against textured, delicately toned backgrounds with dots and daubs of pigment and areas of crosshatching, exemplified by his monumental canvas The Beloved.
After visiting the Paul Klee Foundation in Bern, Switzerland in 1977, Natkin embarked on the Bern series, which finds the geometric and biomorphic shapes of his earlier Field Mouse pictures on expanses of strong, saturated primary colors applied using rags and sponges soaked in paint. The impact of Bern’s visual language cannot be overstated. It informs Natkin’s work for the rest of his life, beginning with his next series, the Hitchcock paintings. Begun in the early 1980s, the Hitchcock series is Natkin’s most identifiable series. With weekly trips to the movie theater as a young child, Natkin became a cinema devotee and an ardent admirer of Alfred Hitchcock. In describing his own series, Natkin pointed out how the director succeeded, despite the playfulness of his films, in depicting and romanticizing the complexities of the human condition. Like Hitchcock, Natkin believed pleasure and beauty were forever intertwined with mystery and paradox. These qualities can be found in Magician, in which seemingly weightless forms merge, mingle, and intersect with one another to evoke moments of joyous exuberance, while darker, heavier color and forms move in and out of space.
In the crowded field of postwar abstraction, Robert Natkin's lifetime exploration of color and light set him apart. Celebrated in his lifetime even as abstraction fell in and out of favor, Natkin remained committed to his vision and produced cohesive and challenging work throughout his career. With 25 works on view, And the Days Are Not Full Enough continues this celebration and marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the artist and for Hirschl & Adler Modern.
The catalogue is soft-cover, 12 pages and fully illustrated in color with a statement by the artist’s daughter Leda Natkin Nelis and a biographical essay by Carol Lowrey, Ph.D.