Robert Kushner has been painting flowers for more than 20 years, ever since the now all-but-forgotten Pattern and Decoration movement of the '70s. In the beginning he painted on fabric, pitching pattern against pattern, but more recently Kushner has been working on stretched canvas--floral images set against a background of painted patchworklike squares that mimic the fabrics of his youth. The combination of gold, glitter and clashing colors that had its birth in '70s disco is still present but now refined, as Kushner has increasingly adopted an Asian esthetic. The brushstrokes that delineate his flowers have become more controlled and Kushner is a master of the single, sure stroke, as in Chinese brush painting, that defines a leaf or a petal.
Yet it seems Kushner may have become too good at what he does, and at times one longs for the exuberant naivete of his earlier work. Despite the kaleidoscope of colors and lavish layering of images, many of his paintings have taken on a decorative formality--elegant, and pleasing in many ways, but ultimately spiritless. On view in addition to the paintings was a series of 13 works on paper, the "Lily Requiem Cycle," which chronicles the short life of a single lily stem, the theme of death curiously rendered in Miami Vice pink and black. An installation titled Lilac Room completely covered the walls of a small side gallery, surrounding the viewer with four monumental canvases intended to create an ambiance rather like that of a Japanese garden--and indeed they did. The mood of these paintings is quiet and contemplative. There is less contrast than in Kushner's other pieces, and his palette is subdued: lilacs, greens, blues and golds that coexist comfortably. The vertical strips of variegated color that form the backdrop for the screen of flowers resemble Japanese scrolls, adding to the feeling of tranquility. But while the two are not always mutually exclusive, Kushner pays for this quietude with a lapse in verve.
All is not lost, however. In Orchid Sunset, a large square painting from 1998, Kushner regains his joie de vivre. Here the background, an uneven grid executed in subtle washes, glows with the various hues of twilight. Metallic, confetti-like squares rise to the top like champagne bubbles, matching the springlike flowering of tiny yellow oncidium orchids. There is a sense of movement, of upward growth, of faith in the processes of renewal, and nature becomes more than subject matter, a source of joy.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Brant Publications, Inc.
Robert Kushner/D.C. Moore
Robert Kushner/D.C. Moore
Art in America