Robert Natkin (1930-2010) was a pivotal figure in American abstraction, known for his dynamic evolution as an artist and his contributions to the exploration of color, form, and narrative in painting.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Natkin's artistic journey began at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he honed his skills from 1948 to 1952. However, recognizing the limited opportunities for abstract artists in Chicago, Natkin made the bold move to New York in 1959. Here, he found a vibrant artistic community and joined the ranks of emerging painters and sculptors associated with the Poindexter Gallery, which championed new voices in the art world.

Immersed in the energetic New York art world, characterized by the dominance of Abstract Expressionism and Color-Field painting, Natkin's style continued to evolve. Embracing a serial approach to painting in 1961, a practice he would adhere to throughout his career, Natkin embarked on his Apollo series characterized by vertical stripes of varying thicknesses and textures to suggest the interplay of color and light while creating a strong sense of order and structure.

Natkin's artistic exploration took another turn in 1968 with his Field Mouse series. Inspired by Ezra Pound's translation of a Chinese poem about the passage of time, these works revealed a departure from the structured Apollo pieces. Instead, Natkin delved into intricate compositions, reminiscent of Paul Klee, featuring a rich tapestry of shapes against textured backgrounds, evoking a sense of movement and spontaneity.

In 1970, Natkin relocated to West Redding, Connecticut, where he continued to innovate. Experimenting with new techniques, Natkin put aside his brushes and began to use sponges, soaked in acrylic paint and wrapped in pieces of cloth or netting, which he would apply to his artwork with different levels of pressure, a technique that enhanced the decorative quality of his paintings. This shift is evident in his Intimate Lighting series, influenced by Cubist paintings and marked by a decorative quality that captivated viewers. The following year 1971 was another pivotal moment in Natkin's career in that he had the first of many one-man shows at the venerable André Emmerich Gallery in New York.

Throughout the 1970s and beyond, Natkin's artistic journey took him through various thematic cycles. From reviving older themes like the Apollo series to exploring new inspirations such as the Bath and Color Bath paintings, inspired by his travels to England. (The Bath paintings were executed in understated monochromatic tones, while the Color Bath paintings feature a range of soft-toned hues woven together to evoke an ultra-fine curtain of light) In 1976, Natkin visited the Paul Klee Foundation in Bern, Switzerland. Returning to America, he embarked on the Bern series, using rags and sponges (on both canvas and paper) to create spirited yet very intimate canvases featuring the geometric and biomorphic shapes of his earlier Field Mouse pictures, rendered now in strong, saturated primary colors, as well as black. The Bern paintings were followed by the Hitchcock series, Natkin’s greatest and most engaging cycle in which he paid homage to the director, Alfred Hitchcock––a raconteur who, like Natkin, also used recurring themes and devices to express aspects of the human condition. Natkin began the Hitchcock series during the early 1980s and continued to explore the theme for the remainder of his career. Taking his cue from Hitchcock’s practice of synthesizing different storylines into a cohesive narrative, Natkin sought to instill his Hitchcock canvases with carefully considered arrangements of shapes.

Robert Natkin's legacy endures as a testament to his innovative spirit and his profound impact on American abstraction. His work is celebrated in numerous prestigious collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Natkin's contributions continue to inspire generations of artists, ensuring his place in the sanctuary of art history.

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