On the surface, they would seem to have little in common. Neil Welliver was called “the dean of American landscape painting,” among other accolades, while Robert Slutzky was a painter of geometrical abstractions and a respected architectural theorist. But they shared more than just a synchronicity of time and space, which is why the Department of Fine Arts is presenting “Color/Fields,” a tribute to the two painters who taught at Penn and chaired the department, and who died earlier this year.
Both men were born in 1929 and studied at Yale, where both learned much about the optics of color from Josef Albers. From there they went in very different directions.
Welliver, who chaired the department from 1966 until 1989 and who suffered several devastating personal tragedies in his life, was a painter of powerful, large-scale, unromanticized landscapes of the Maine woods, which the critic Robert Hughes called “among the strongest images in modern American art.” Those images pack “an emotional intensity that goes beyond the ordinary limits of realism,” he added, and pay “homage to the materialism of Courbet, and to large-scale 19th-century American landscape, and to Abstract Expressionism, all at once.”
John Silber, the former president of Boston University, described Welliver as “a man with the visual equivalent of perfect pitch.” And yet, Welliver said in 1981: “I never copy the color I see. Never.”
The Brooklyn-born Slutzky, who chaired the department from 1990 to 1992, once said that by “excluding representation, an illusion of another kind becomes possible, which is the illusion of color and shape.”
“I believe in painting’s ability to choreograph color and form in infinite compositional variations,” he told architect Emmanuel J. Petit. “What I deal with is polychromatic geometry.
“I like to think of color as something contained in jars and tubes, to be released at the appropriate time, when the spatial structure calls for it,” Slutzky added. “Color and drawing enter into a pas de deux, and finally each holds its own.”S.H.
Color/Fields: A Tribute to Neil Welliver and Robert Slutzky, runs through November 23 at the Charles Addams Gallery, 200 S. 36th Street.
©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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