Robert Natkin, Apollo, circa 1976, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 16 Ĺ x 48 inches. Permanent Collection 2000.069. Gift of Lillian Heidenberg Reitman
Robert Natkin passed away last week, reported the New York Times
Robert Natkin was an abstract artist who rose to fame in the 1960s following the success of such luminaries as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Like many abstract artists, he had to fight an uphill battle against critics over the validity of his work. He fought the good fight his entire life and now has an impressive body of work left in his estate, represented by Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer Gallery, New York.
Natkin's later works, although always abstract, explored different themes. Sometimes they are filled with geometric blocks of electric color, interrupting the eye's path as it travels across the plane, demanding attention in multiple places at once. They can also be pale washes of paint ebbing and flowing, interspersed with small solid shapes, like buoys, adrift in Natkin's serene world.
My personal favorites are his Palimpsest Series. If you were to see one in a gallery and read the wall label, it would simply have "Acrylic over printed matter on canvas" listed as the medium. For this series, Natkin took his critics' negative reviews, attached them to canvases and then painted over them.
Regarding this series, Natkin said:
"This exhibition, expresses, among its many ambitions, an attempt to exorcize the hostile arbiter of aesthetics through primitive means by eating the enemy."
And eat them he did. He consumed, digested, and then eliminated them with multiple overlays of the lyrical, soft colors, for which they derided him. Mostly, it is difficult to read the newsprint underneath the paint and textural overlay. However, what you can read most likely caused Natkin to gnash his teeth on more than one occasion.
"Both types [of Natkin's paintings] have undeniable sensual appeal, though like Chinese dinners, they don't stay with you very long."
But Natkin got the last laugh. He painted over that review in 1981, and that painting is still with us. You can't read the critic's byline, but Natkin's signature is visible in all of its sensual glory.