From: Robert Natkin. Exhibition catalogue, Flanders, Minneapolis, 2004. Introduction by Leda Natkin Nelis.

Styles change. Hemlines rise and fall. But great art transcends time. Robert Natkin has managed, over the past fifty years, to remove himself from the fickle vagaries of the art establishment, and consecrate himself to creating paintings that are intimate and highly powerful.

“What is built on novelty perishes by obsolescence”, writes art critic Robert Hughes. The high-concept, low-content installations and “shock art” camp that fill today’s galleries and museums may serve as interesting sociological studies, but they fail, ultimately, to sustain us. Natkin’s paintings, despite their look of deceptive serenity, challenge the viewer to travel inward, and spark an intimacy that’s long-lasting and transforming. His canvases cannot be appreciated in a single glance- they require contemplation. Natkin, a longtime lover of words and wordplay, has long spoken his rejection of aesthetic “hollowness” in favor of that which is ‘hallowed”. He resists the ephemeral titillation of transient pleasure, embracing instead a more furtive and evocative poetic landscape that is, ultimately, transcendent.

Natkin is particularly demanding of his viewers. We—those gazing—become an integral part of the visual spectacle of the canvas. While many of Natkin’s contemporaries have resorted comfortably to creating art that is superficial and as easy-to-spot as a designer handbag (“logo art”, we could call it-think Warhol’s Polaroid portraits), Natkin strives, through his paintings, to weave powerful visual narratives. Indeed, it is the viewer’s involvement with Natkin’s paintings that ultimately actualizes the primal vision of the artist. The power of this engagement- this intense intimacy between viewer and artist- propels us past the skin of the canvas, beyond the pictorial arrangement of shape and color, into the realm of inner narrative. Natkin and his viewers become, in a sense, coconspirators, working in collusion.

Natkin, in a recent letter to me, compares himself as painter to a sweatshop seamstress. “I sew together fragments of cloth” he writes, “unaware of the dress I’m sewing, unaware of its final look and function. Later, I’m surprised when I see it enveloping a body that moves, breasts and hips swelling. This is composition.” The final result of his laborious editing and reediting often takes Natkin by surprise. “I feel taunted and cajoled by my images”, he writes. Natkin’s ultimate ambition: to create belief. This process begins with the first touch of his brush or palette knife against the blank canvas, and only ends after he has engaged us in a powerful visual drama. We, and he, are changed through the experience.

- Leda Natkin Nelis

From: Robert Natkin: Recent Work. Exhibition catalogue, David Findlay JR Fine Art, New York, 2004. Introduction by Theodore F. Wolff (“The Many Masks of Modern Art”)

Robert Natkin has spent a considerable portion of his creative life bringing beauty into sharp focus through paintings that are subtle evocations of the gentler, more ineffable levels and dimensions of our physical and spiritual universe.

He has done so at considerable risk, for there is nothing so difficult and dangerous as the pursuit of beauty in art. It is as elusive as the proverbial bluebird of happiness, and just as hard to pin down.

Natkin has succeeded where so many have failed because he has had the innate good sense to approach beauty as though it were a lovely butterfly awaiting transportation to a special and mysterious garden rather than as that same butterfly destined to be mounted on a board. By that I mean that he coaxes and cajoles his colors, shapes, textures, and lines toward their final destinations on his canvas, and doesn’t push and pull them about as though they are puppets on his string. He evokes the qualities and dimensions of feelings he wants to communicate and share, and thus he is as much magician as artist, as much planter as harvester.

His art is the result of a loving and shrewd reading not only of life and of Old Masters but of modernism as well, and it lies in direct linear descent from the art of Monet, Bonnard, Klee, and Rothko.

…Natkin, in other words, is not a formal purist, a designer and architect of abstract compositions intended to stand strictly on their own without reference to other things, places, or events. He is a visual poet whose apparently abstract images actually exist to enchant us with intimations and evocations of things we can sense but never quite see.

- Theodore F. Wolff