Woke Up on Broadway: Robert Szot’s Earnest Abstraction

Robert Szot paints in earnest. “I’m the most dangerous thing you can be in New York­—I’m sentimental,” he said during a recent visit to his Brooklyn studio, where he’s been busy preparing for a new show at Muriel Guépin Gallery. His studio is a bright, comfortable space, the size of a large living room, looking onto the street. Paintings cover most of the walls; a flyer for his imminent show is tacked to a door featuring a portrait of young Szot, shot Olan Mills-style. The artist, as the flyer suggests, doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s funny and warm, speaking easily about his family, his beginnings in journalism, and his move from Texas to New York—in order to pursue painting. Szot has no desire to be avant-garde or conceptual in his work; he simply loves painting and is engrossed with its history. During the visit he expressed his deep admiration for Francis Bacon, Philip Guston, and Egon Schiele.

While Szot draws on scale and color from the outside world for his works, he never plans them in advance; the paintings are expressions of his unconscious mind. Each work begins with loose, gestural underpainting in a process of sketching after which he adds flat fields of color and other abstract elements. Visually, his work is akin to a complex conversation, composed of many different layers and scattered sites of weight and elaboration. Szot often characterizes his work as “argumentative” and claims he must put the painting “in jeopardy” to get it to a satisfactory place. Without experiencing the process it’s hard to know what he means, but for Szot it seems to be the endeavor through which he imparts his true personality into each work. He relishes the experience of divining his heroes’ personalities through their paintings, and strives to achieve the same end in his. It follows, then, that he develops a deep relationship with each painting, to the extent that he prefers to personally install paintings sold to collectors in order to see the experience through to the very final step.

—Makiko Wholey

Woke Up on Broadway” is on view at Muriel Guépin Gallery, New York, Sept. 7th–Oct. 5th, 2014.

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