Robert Kushner’s new paintings are a radical departure from his recent work, while harking back to some of his earliest paintings on fabric from the 1970’s and 80’s. This body of work taps into the issues of embellishment and beauty in art that is ever-present in his paintings. For the first time, Kushner is collaging fabric to canvas before adding paint and gilding. The fabrics, mostly silk, come from India, Japan, and Uzbekistan. The flamboyance, sparkle, elegance and technical mastery of all of these materials, particularly the Indian embroideries known as dupattas, are endlessly fascinating to Kushner. The textiles are adhered to the canvas or panel, allowing hints of hidden embroidered portions to show through the layers of paint, gilding and collage. This results in a complex surface that could not be created in any other way. This over-the-top richness allows Kushner to continue his explorations of elaborate, dense surfaces and compositions, and to wryly ask, “Is more enough?”
Kushner is seeking a balance between the ornamentation on the dupattas he uses and his own depiction of floral and geometric structures. His use of the fabric’s design, combined with underlying replicating grids, allows him to examine and express the idea of patterns as the substrate of our cultural experiences. The result is a lyrical fusion of Eastern and Western styles and this multiplicity of forms, the extensive layering, and diverse palette allows the mood of the pieces to vary from buoyant and a little giddy, to somber and severe.
Kushner first visited India in 1978, where he worked with a family of Rajasthani applique artists that changed his studio practice completely. He is interested in the handmade qualities of the textiles which offer a human trace to the paintings. He is also drawn to the sense of inclusion, not reduction, present in India’s textiles as seen in the richness and vibrancy of his compositions.
Robert Kushner has exhibited extensively in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum, in New York, and the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art. His work is featured in public collections such as The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Tate Modern, London, England; and the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy. Kushner is included in the upcoming exhibition in September 2018, Pattern and Decoration. Ornament as Promise, at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen, and Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien in Geneva in 2019. His work is also included in an upcoming exhibition: Pattern and Decoration at Le Consortium, Dijon and MAMCO, Geneva, in 2019.
This exhibition is on view concurrently with Katia Santibañez: A Timeless Gaze.