The first curious steps into Sarah Moody Art Gallery quickly transformed into a journey through some of the most popular names in contemporary art over the last 100 years. Picasso, Rauschenberg, and Chuck Close hung within inches of each other. This impressive collection only grew more interesting after passing Krasner, Dali, and Richard Long. The word eclectic doesn’t quite capture the diversity of this collection. Movements and schools of thought represented in the form of their major artists range from Cubism to Post-Modernism with many stops in between. The works of Robert Rauschenberg, Chuck Close, and Richard Long capture the breadth of artistic expression. Each of them became innovators and true pioneers in their mediums and processes.
Rauschenberg, born in 1925, nearly invented an entire genre of creative expression:
Rauschenberg’s enthusiasm for popular culture and his rejection of the angst and seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists led him to search for a new way of painting. He found his signature mode by embracing materials traditionally outside of the artist’s reach. (pbs.org 1)
He became known for his unconventional materials and methods. Through much experimentation he found a satifying base of operation within screen-printing. Strawboss, created in 1970 by Rauschenberg, is a silkscreen print that flowed from a group of works inspired by a visit to NASA in 1968 where he witnessed the Apollo 11 shuttle launch. NASA actually asked him to include the experience in his artwork (fi.muni.cz 2). From a distance, the canvas looks as though it were scribbled on with a charcoal pencil. However, perfect lines and curves at the edges of the negative space suggest some form of mechanical intervention. In classic Rauschenberg style, the collaged images overlap, intersect, and blend to form visual synergy. A man in the lower left finds himself over-powered by the sleek industrial spaceship overhead. The viewer’s eye tends to circle back to the clean edges of the ship’s fuselage repeatedly. No doubt this was the intent of the artist.
Not only intentional, but painstakingly calculated are the works of Chuck Close. Months and years go into each of his works. The S.P. II, 1997, featured in Sarah Moody is no exception. This linocut began as a photograph. Close then, through a difficult series of steps, carves the image onto linoleum and prints the image. S.P. II becomes another one of his legendary centered frontal headshots. Moving from photorealistic paintings in the 1960’s to his experimental process focused works over the years, Close has kept his subject matter relatively the same. The moods of expression however, span a variety of emotions: from the very intense Lucas series, to the more subdued S.P. series. This particular piece challenges the viewer with its soberness. Peering out with what becomes an invasive stare, Close pulls the viewer in to examine his shameless vasage. The grayscale dots become less and less recognizable as a face when the viewer moves in for a closer look. This ‘now you see it now you don’t’ style pulls on expressionistic roots, but has been developed by Close into something all his own.
Another individual who carved a niche for him-self in the art world is Richard Long. Fingerprints Horizontal Circle, 1994, leaped from its frame in the lower Garland hallway. A simple, visually perfect, circular line marked out by black fingerprints, back-dropped by a rough textured 21.5 x 32” sheet of paper. Consisting of minimal elements, indeed, but a very powerful image. Each fingerprint appears to be the direct replication of the print on either side. The repetition of the fingerprint shape creates a unified structure that reads as a single object, although there are no lines connecting one print to another. The circle is an illusion built by the proximity of each fingerprint to the next and the consistent degree of tilt applied unanimously. Surprisingly, few of Longs works are on canvas. The majority of his art takes place outside in the form of walks all over the world. Along these walks he may lay down a line of stones marking his path through the Peruvian desert, or arrange a circle of rocks on the coast of Ireland. Wherever Long travels he expresses himself through the same basic philosophy:
“I like simple, practical, emotional, quiet, vigorous art… I like common means given the simple twist of art… I like to use the symmetry of patterns between time… I choose lines and circles because they do the job… My work is visible or invisible. (Long 3)
Apart from photos, videos, or diagrams many of Long’s works are quite invisible. The remote locations where he finds his inspiration keeps the general public from ever seeing his large scale work in person. To remedy the absence of an audience Long has published books with photographs of the distant works, bringing his art to the people. Armed with stone and square miles, Richard Long, cleared path for land artists.
Rauschenberg, Close, and Long redefined what the world classified as art. They pushed the limits of their fields and moved into undiscovered territory. The University has a treasure of important art by these and many other great men and women who were revolutionary in their ideas and masters of their craft.
- PBS American Masters: Rauschenberg
- Richard Long, Five six pick up sticks. Seven eight lay them straight, 1980, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London