From Robert Natkin, A Retrospective: 1952-1996. Exhibition catalogue, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 1997

By the late 1950s, Natkin, finding that the subject matter of his paintings interfered with his own aesthetic growth, abandoned portraiture and his expressionist figurative works in favor of abstraction. This was the result of an emotional rather than an intellectual decision for Natkin and came only after several vacillations between representational and abstract formats. As Natkin explains, the figures in his canvases dissolved and fell away as he found himself concentrating more and more intently on those areas surrounding the figures. He now began, instead, to focus on brushstroke, on texture, and on the interplay of color and light. Subject matter seemed, suddenly, to have become irrelevant.

Natkin, since his student days, had been fascinated by Paul Klee’s light-saturated paintings and drawings and in particular by Klee’s use of artificial or interior light. It is the same interior lighting, similar to that of the rococo movie palaces of Natkin’s Chicago childhood that flood his early abstract works. His 1959 canvas “Dutch View” with its vigorously paletted paint strokes and luminous color is a rich embodiment of Natkin’s preoccupation with both light and hue. Natkin’s fascination with the fantasy of theater extends beyond his passion for theatrical yet “pedestrian” lighting. He embraced as well the richly orchestrated, larger-than life colors of Technicolor musicals, colors that evoke for Natkin the vibrating colors of Van Gogh and Klee.

“Dutch View”, as its title implies, is homage not only to Van Gogh but also to Willem de Kooning whose use of the palette knife clearly inspired Natkin in the execution of his early abstract works. As Natkin explains, the title refers not to a traditional “view” in which one gazes at a landscape or other scenic spot, but to Natkin’s own “point of view” or version of de Kooning’s and Van Gogh’s inspiring aesthetic visions.

- Leda Natkin Nelis