There are a couple of artists’ quotes that roll around in my head from time to time while working:

“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

The Smith quote is a good reminder to remain unafraid, especially when I’m getting close to the end of a piece and the risks are sometimes harder to take.

Guston’s words are often a touchstone for me, but this quote, about the honesty in the work, really hits home. Anyone can make something look good, and we can often make ourselves believe that it is good. For a while. That honesty part though; that’s it in a nutshell. How do we get beneath the artifice of what we’re making, especially in this day of social media likes and such? The truth sometimes hits me when I’m painting over a particularly weak area of a piece. The fresh slate can allow for some breathing room. Or just room for more shit. Which leads me to my own quote: “Shit is manure”.

I was working on a painting a number of years ago, getting more and more frustrated as I went on. After throwing my brush at the canvas, I painted on the wall: “This is shit”. When I sat down to look at the crap I was painting, it occurred to me: shit is also manure, and things grow from manure. That caused me to see the crap phase of what I do differently, knowing that eventually, somehow, some way, I’ll get to the growth state of the work.

One last statement, this time written by Caren Heft, a former colleague and director of the Edna Carlsten Art Gallery at UWSP. Caren wrote this for a self-published book of my work, circa 2001:

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.