Rob Setrakian: Inside Out – New Paintings & Monotypes

August 01, 2017 - October 02, 2017

at Commonweal Gallery
451 Mesa Rd, Bolinas, CA 94924

~Open Monday-Friday, 10 am – 4 pm or by appointment~

~Artist Reception Saturday, August 12 / 3 – 5 pm~

I AM AN ABSTRACT PAINTER. My work is part of my spiritual identity. It is generated by my physical and emotional life, a private and subjective realm determined by personal responses to nature, people, places, and art-all of which are absorbed into my psyche. The painting process unleashes individual, and unique, combinations of feelings and beliefs on the canvas. The resulting paintings are both direct expressions of my interior identity and efforts to convey to others a distinctive way of experiencing the world. That is not to say that abstract painting necessarily eliminates suggestion of landscape or figure entirely. But it comes from within rather than from direct observation as in traditional realist painting- and that makes all the difference.

All my life I’ve been intrigued by space, form, color, scale, and line. I knew I needed to be making something with my hands. Ceramics, photography, drawing, painting, and printmaking soon became full-time endeavors, and at age twenty I committed myself to visual expression. I discovered early on that I could achieve my personal expressive objectives best by non-representational means. My education in the art department at Stanford University set me firmly on my artistic path. Art history classes were intertwined with studio work. The time spent there was all about learning the materials as means of expression. But the most important lesson was what you want to express, and just how you choose to do so, is your own business.

How do you develop your visual vocabulary, the lines, shapes, colors, and textures that are the basic components of picture-making, in a manner that is expressive and personal? In my experience, all artists who have come before contribute to that vocabulary. My mentor, Nathan Oliveira, likened the history of art to a long chain. And each practicing artist is a link in that chain that connects us to the past as it points to the future. Some of my favorite artists, both abstract and representational, include: Arshile Gorky, Paul Klee, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, and Rembrandt. Another piece of wisdom Oliveira shared is that the first line/gesture put down on the painting is actually the fifth line. The four sides of the picture are very important. I had the good fortune of studying at Stanford with Keith Boyle and Frank Lobdell- as well as Oliveira-each of whom experimented with figuration and abstraction. In Nate’s case, the two often coexisted. Thirty years ago he came to my opening at Teorama Gallery in Florence, having just arrived to teach at Stanford in Italy. I agreed to be his upaid teaching assistant for two months at II Bisonte press.

The monotype, which Oliveira revived and mastered, is often referred to as the “painterly print.” The possibilities with the medium are endless: printing and painting accidents become breakthroughs. A visual language, the artist’s own voice, is developed and nurtured by working and reworking surfaces. The creative moment, the mind, and the hand come together in the all-important painterly gesture. As an abstract painter, I make the rules and I can break and change them. These images get their inspiration from everything around me: sight, sound, dreams, nature, the media. As I go through the process of distilling down and stripping away unwanted “energies,” I find the good and harmonious in what seems impossible. When successful, the paintings vibrate with positive energy.

Some of the first examples of abstraction come from the Lascaux Cave, created over 17,000 years ago. In the 1840s J.M.W. Turner was painting landscapes and seascapes that as proto-abstractions anticipate Impressionism. Seventy years later Monet’s water lilies, haystacks, and cathedral facades further opened the door for pure abstraction. I chose this kind of painting because it suits me. It is an adventure with unknowns and around the corner. I discovered the abstract realm to be most compatible with my innate skills. Now abstraction has become a door to what awaits me. It is where my art comes together with the personal, self-defining spirituality of my life.