"Are you afraid to exercise vigor; seek surprise?" -- David Smith

"I make a mark, a few strokes. I argue with myself, not 'Do I like it or not?', but, 'Is it true or not?' 'Is that what I mean, is that what I want?'" -- Philip Guston

Rob Stolzer's paintings are derived from natural forms: seedpods, dried flowers, sprouted potatoes, garden and life fragments. It is a rich combination resulting in exceptional paintings that glow with color.

The layering of paint and imagery is important to Stolzer. He finds that surface interest is increased when a painting has a number of layers, resulting in a palimpsest quality, merging past and present. Indeed, in Blue Eggs, a nine-panel painting, the subtle suggestions of the figure in the background are nearly as important as the last, or top, composition. The influence of the natural world is very clear in this work, with suggestions of seedpods, twigs, and dead or dried flowers.

The crossing of the image from one panel to the next, across the edges of each panel, is Stolzer's main reason for making a multi-paneled work. He looks at the spatial relationships in each panel, as well as how the space of the nine panels works as a whole. Lines and shapes cross the panels, with the negative spaces between the panels becoming a part of the total composition.

The nine-panel painting, Sacred Seeds, gives the viewer insight into another of Stolzer's dictums. He seeks a sense of awkwardness, a mark of the hand, of the human being behind the work. That sensibility is very clear in Sacred Seeds. We can almost see the artist considering a line, whether it should be roughened. The process of making each painting, incorporating layering, with past and present evident, a focus on imperfection, both in subject matter and presentation, allows the viewer insight into the work.

Stolzer's paintings begin and end with drawing. He draws on the canvas initially, and as he works the shapes into final form, he continues to emphasize the line, erasing parts, redrawing parts of each line, adding new lines. For him, drawing is the most immediate from of expression, leading the viewer into the work, defining the work. This is clear in Seeds Within. The strong line on the left divides the canvas while the dark lines on the right reiterate the shape of the seed pod and work as a calligraphic counterpoint to the pale, flat shape. The light line and the orange line advance and recede, allowing the underlying shapes to shift and change. The interplay of flat shape and dancing line work together for a sort of visual music.

Stolzer seeks freshness in the paintings, and avoids overworking of the canvas surface. He refers to Philip Guston who said, "What I always try to do is eliminate, as much as possible, the time span between thinking and doing. The ideal is to think and to do at the same second, the same split second." Stolzer skillfully balances two polarities, that of layering paint and immediacy, allowing the paintings to sing.

Caren Heft
Director, Carlsten Gallery
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point