By NOAH BECKER December, 2019
I had a chance to talk with painter Robert Solomon. We share an interest in Manet and the history of painting in general. The following is a conversation about his recent work.
Noah Becker: What I see in your work, especially in the Culture Kunst series, is an interest in Manet.
Robert Solomon: Yes, that's the last painting in my series Culture Kunst.
Solomon: There's six or seven, actually there might be eight paintings beginning with the Rabbi, the Beatles painting, so forth.
Becker: You used one of the most famous Manet paintings as a source for one of the works. And what is your specific interest in this Manet painting? Aside from it being a high point in art history?
Solomon: Well it is a high point. The interest for me was the beautiful clothes that she's wearing and her hair and the fact that she's reflected. What you see in the painting is a reflection of the bar as seen by the man who is talking to her, or at least that's what I see. I mean you see both reflections, you see your front and you see her back.
Solomon: However, the other painting that I painted that deals with the same subject - I made her back and an Eagle. Something like a Baselitz, a kind of German eagle coming down, screaming down from the sky. So you see both her and you see everything reflected in a mirror, which was done by silver ink in that painting of mine.
Becker: I see.
Solomon: Silver printer's ink.
Becker: So aside from Manet, you also have an interest in Francis Bacon.
Becker: Bacon spoke about how he had started a painting, which was kind of like a bird landing on a field. Then it became something completely different. Was this an influential aspect of Bacon for you?
Solomon: Yes but not in relation to that piece exactly.
Becker: I see.
Solomon: My painting Women and Chemistry Sets was a conflation of a image that I found on the web of a woman almost in the same position as the young woman in the Manet and she's holding two, not soup bowls but dishes or bowls over her breasts. One is blue, one is red and she's wearing a chef's cap.
Solomon: She's smiling. So the face is, as you see in the painting, the face is her beautiful black dress and she's holding her hands over her breasts with these plates and simultaneously she's holding her hair. I forget what kind of a hat it's called but I've achieved that through soaked fabric and through oil based printer's ink.
Becker: Right. It looks like two panels with the separation in the middle of the diptych.
Solomon: To me it looks beautiful.
Becker: Where the panels separate I mean, yes I agree. I love the way it functions.
Solomon: Yes. I used, I guess spacers that you would put in behind, tighteners that you put in behind the canvas - it just looked perfect separated.
Becker: Oh I see, it's actually separated with spacers?
Solomon: It's separated with spacers. The spaces are painted, the sides of the painting are painted. It's three panels and her hair and hat extend to the third panel, which is above the bottom two and that is actually depicted as a mirror.
Becker: And what is it about Francis Bacon that informs you or interests you? Sorry, I asked that earlier but let's talk about it.
Solomon: I guess the gorgeous way he divides his subject - the percentium type of display and the simplicity of the rooms. The simplicity of the architectural space and then the complexity of the painting itself, the gold frames. The luxuriousness of Bacon's subject matter - there's a luxuriousness about fabric in a Bacon painting, it's about a pattern, about what people wear, style, fashion and, and how you paint that as a painting.
Becker: Yes, that makes sense. So you have a Francis Bacon and Manet influence - two of my favorite painters.
Solomon: I was walking around Chelsea and taking pictures with my iPhone of ordinary, let's say garden ornaments. The garden ornaments would be a substitution of banal objects instead of, let's say, pure landscape. And when I began to paint them, they began to directly, kind of not confront but to look at me. I'm painting them as if they were in a conversation with myself as a painter.
Solomon: No, no, not the painter, but the observer.
Becker: Oh ok.
Solomon: Not the painter, but the observer. I'm the observer and I'm looking through these are iron bars around churches, around 27th street, 28th street, and I'm having a dialogue with what I'm looking at in the landscape and the simple gardens.
Becker: Right. That's very interesting. I like the graphic quality of your work. I like the way you kind of bounce between a kind of abstract expressionist approach and a linear approach at the same time. Nice to hear about the process behind it.
Becker: And how you create these broad sort of sweeping strokes - fantastic. Sometimes going across the canvas or horizontally, there might be something that's abstract and then all of a sudden you have the suggestion of a figurative element within the abstraction.
Becker: I mean that's all the complexities of really high level painting - the ability to kind of balance some of those suggestive elements...
Solomon: And they show that I love painting. Getting back to the Beatles painting, it's about taking something that's iconic already in a photograph and to paint it as if you're seeing it for the first time - from a very tiny sketch which I made on a Tiffany and Company advertisement. I really painted it from the sketch though. A very small sketch, maybe four inches by three inches, something like that or six inches by three inches. And I had to make notes on the sketch which uniform was blue, magenta, red or stuff like that.
Becker: All in the same work? It's great to see how you pull all these influences together.
Solomon: All in the same work. Absolutely. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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