At first glance, painters Robert Slutzsky and Neil Welliver would seem to have little in common. Welliver painted large-scale depictions of the wooded Maine landscape while Slutzsky created bold abstract compositions of geometric forms. Welliver’s painterly brush strokes are visible on the canvas, while Slutzsky’s work emits a cool precision.
But the two men share some history. They both served as chairs of the Department of Fine Arts and both studied at Yale under Bauhaus artist Josef Albers. They were born in the same year (1929) and both died early in 2005.
Alex Paik, exhibitions coordinator in the Department of Fine Arts, says that both artists were also greatly concerned with color in their work, though in different ways. Paik compares the work of the two men to that of composers Bach and Brahms. While Bach’s keyboard music was spare and rigid on the surface, underneath, it was fluid and compelling, just like Slutzsky’s work. Brahms, on the other hand, was known for his lush, textured compositions, much like the canvases of Welliver.
Through Nov. 23, you can see the work of these visual musicians side by side in “Color/Fields,” an exhibition, at the Charles Addams Gallery. An opening reception and gallery talk will be held on Nov. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Paik says that this is likely the first show that has put the work of these artists side by side. After Welliver and Slutzsky died earlier this year, Fine Arts Chair John Moore proposed the idea of the exhibition. “It seemed like a natural thing to do,” says Paik. And the two artists—besides having distinguished careers outside of academia—also deeply influenced Penn’s fine arts program. “I think they both started to bring a level of excellence to the Fine Arts Department,” says Paik, who graduated from the department this past May. He notes that unlike most graduate art schools that possess a “house style,” Penn’s program does not, perhaps because the work of two of its formative chairs was “as different as night and day.”
Welliver served as chair of the department from 1965 to 1989, while Slutzsky was chair from 1990 to 1992, and continued to teach until 2003. Slutzsky—a master of color and form—was also a highly respected architectural theorist.
Paik hopes this exhibition will illuminate the two artists’ work for the general public. “It’s a really exciting show,” he says, “probably the most ambitious show we’ve had here.”
For more information on “Color/Fields,” go to www.design.upenn.edu/new/finar/exhibitions.
Originally published on November 3, 2005