A World in Fragments: 50 Years of Robert S. Neuman’s Vibrant Paintings

Currently on view at Childs Gallery in Boston, “Pedazos del Mundo,” or “Pieces of the World”, offers a survey of work by painter Robert S. Neuman completed in the early 1960s. The works depict fragmented worlds: abstract, circular forms composed of bright, geometric shapes that are part of an ongoing series of paintings begun in 1961, following time the artist spent abroad in Germany and Spain in the 1950s.

Neuman’s work involves many diverse techniques of paint application. The compositions in “Pedazos del Mundo” are made through methods of layering, collage, stamping, masking, and tracing and printing with objects like cans, to create ordered rectangles and circles in varying colors and sizes. Each of these discrete elements, which play against each other and seem to loosely stand in for unknown locations or people, make up part of the greater circular form. Neuman’s masterful palette further suggests this vibrant interaction between places and cultures; in some works, such as Pedazos del Mundo (1964), alternating warm and cool colors create a celebratory atmosphere; in others, such as his 1968 painting of the same name, he takes a more somber tone.

Neuman’s style owes much to the play between his experiences among Bay Area painters in California and his following experiments with symbolic abstraction in response to travels in Europe. In the early 1950s, he exhibited and worked alongside influential painters such as Clyfford Still and Richard Diebenkorn in California, while teaching nearby at the San Francisco School of Fine Art and the California College of Fine Art, and the hallmarks of these Abstract Expressionist painters’ work—large-scale, expressive brushwork, and field-based surface treatments—are especially apparent in Neuman’s early work. Upon being awarded a Fulbright Grant for painting in 1953, Neuman traveled to Stuttgart and then subsequently to Barcelona on a Guggenheim Fellowship, where he further expanded his range of influences. It was after this time that his work began to incorporate symbolism as a language to be used in abstraction, a method he continues to explore today. 

In the decades since, Neuman has become prolific, and has created variegated work across styles and subject matter, including “Ship to Paradise,” a series of prints related to the 16th-century satirist Sebastian Brant’s book The Ship of Fools; the “Lame Deer” series, focusing on the eponymous Native American reservation in Montana; and “Space Signs,” a progression from “Pedazos del Mundo” that explores space travel. 

—K. Sundberg

Pedazos del Mundo” is on view at Childs Gallery, Boston, Sept. 2nd– Nov. 1st, 2014.

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