Sep 1, 2007

August 2007 Union Dale

I've been looking at Robert Stark's work for 40 years.
I started with 8 x 10 black and white contact prints, photographs so dark but so articulate that they seemed to have actual physical heft.
Then the
35mm color slides: they exploded like Fourth of July fireworks, or revealed the simplest things -- a road through the snow, for instance -- as if their composition was a perfect accident of the sort you used to find at the end of a roll of pictures when it came back from the drugstore. He moved on from the camera in the late sixties when art photography turned to alienation, discontinuity and decay in its last attempt to hold on to the dying notion of authenticity.

Stark , instead, went back to the basics of picture making -- jars of pigment that he strewed across wet paper. Then the oil and soft pastels that became his Phillips Collection show; charcoal, graphite, and then oil. He works in rich analogous grays, he works in collections of complements, especially blue and orange and red and green. He keeps his palette simple.

How he loves his tools, from old wooden view cameras to stretchers, linen, a big copper pot full of brushes like a bouquet in honor of the history of art. I like to watch him sharpen a pencil with a knife or trundle huge canvases around his studio, obstinate and gentle.

So decades later, his work still has heft, authenticity and the
quality of accident. My favorites leave me unable to tell whether they're exploding out at me, or I'm exploding into them.

Another thing: Since the beginning, Stark's work has had a tincture of edgy sadness that makes me think of America and the raw-boned facts of small-town existence he must have learned as a boy, a poignance that drove him toward beauty -- not beauty as pleasure but beauty as transfixing fact, a kind of glory.

Henry Allen, June 27, 2007

Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2000

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