It’s all in the name — or is it? Robert Berkshire’s paintings may stand alone as masterful abstractions, but each is inspired by something concrete … even if only in our mythological imagination. Salome’s veils, Icarus, Don Quixote, a phoenix rising — this is the stuff from which his images are born.
The Art of Robert Berkshire: Epic Episodes is more of the same, and I mean that in the best way. Berkshire is still at the top of his form after years of making art and being lauded for it in this community and beyond.
-‘Don Quixote II’ by Robert Berkshire seated, currently on exhibit at Woodburn & Westcott.- Berkshire, the distinguished Indianapolis artist who taught for many years at Herron School of Art — where he is now professor emeritus of painting — continues to make paintings that reveal his virtuosity with the brush and color palette as they are inspired by, in this case, the epics of myth, the arts and our contemporary culture. Each painting is rich with references to its subject-title and carries the feelings it engenders, as if Berkshire were giving us a visual description of passion — no words needed.
Beyond this observation, what can I say about Berkshire that hasn’t been said before? His paintings are still, in a word, magnificent — dare I say predictably so. His brushwork is just as confident as ever, aggressively so. His work is still carried out onto medium, large and super-large canvases, usually springing from a thematic color and its many variations with small flourishes of contrasting color. And his lines, last but not least, are still bolts of lightning radiating from some chaotic center — but all is contained.
You could love “Salome’s Veils” without the Salome reference, but when you have it, the veils move before you in a sheer radiance of sparkling blue. The abstracted figure is suggested movement, a quick stroke of darker color moving towards center. I have the feeling that if I had the opportunity to visit this painting more than once, Salome would have moved.
Artists such as Berkshire who have an academic background and have solidified it with years of teaching — but who have retained their ability to be moved by some unseen passion — are those whom we will remember categorically. Berkshire’s voice is his own and yet he exemplifies a certain kind of painting. If you crave chocolate, there’s nothing like the real thing. And only the best chocolate will do. If it’s abstraction you seek, then only brilliant abstraction will do. Berkshire still qualifies.
The Art of Robert Berkshire is on view through Feb. 21 at Woodburn & Westcott Contemporary Fine Art in Fountain Square, 1043 Virginia Ave., Suite 5; phone 916-6062. Gallery hours are Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.