Robert Hartman – Airborne
Wednesday, February 17th – Friday, March 11th, 2016
Opening Reception: 4 – 7 pm, Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
Worth Ryder Art Gallery, 116 Kroeber Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 12 – 5 pm
Free, Accessible, and Open to the Public
The UC Berkeley Department of Art Practice and the Worth Ryder Art Gallery are deeply honored to present Airborne, a memorial retrospective exhibition of our much-loved Professor Emeritus Robert Hartman, 1926 – 2015.
Robert Hartman taught painting and drawing at the UC Berkeley Department of Art Practice for thirty years, influencing generations of student artists. He was a gentle, kind man, whose deep attention to the act of seeing, and profoundly insightful critical feedback made a powerful impression on those who encountered him in the classroom. Throughout this time, he maintained an active art practice, one rooted in the careful observation of composition, color, and space he developed through his early engagement with Abstract Expressionist painting. His tireless search for new modes of expression lead him to challenge painting traditions and explore new mediums.
Hartman is perhaps best known for photographic work that brought together his love of art and love of flying. A passionate pilot, he had a revelation in the 1980’s that the forms he observed in the landscape, especially the changes wrought by human activity, were related to the compositions he created in his paintings. He began exhibiting aerial landscape photographs taken from the window of his Piper “Clipper” while flying at 100mph thousands of feet above the Bay Area landscape. While controlling the plane solely with his feet and knees, he would put the plane into a steep bank and point his camera straight down through the open side window. Hartman’s interest in technology was not limited to aircraft; his use of special infrared-sensitive film allowed him to capture wavelengths of light invisible to the human eye, giving his works an alien, yet information-dense color schema, and his use of the Ilfochrome Dye Destruction Print process gives his photographs rich color depth and a unique luster.
By pointing his camera down and eliminating the earthbound view of the horizon that structures the history of landscape painting and photography, Hartman was presaging the birds-eye view that would become the default perspective of the 21st century through technologies such as Google Maps. His interest in humanity’s destructive effects on the landscape anticipated photographers such as David Maisel, and Edward Burtynsky.
Airborne will be premiering two bodies of work separated by more than half a century and realized in radically different media, and will ask viewers to consider how they are linked.
Despite a successful painting practice, Hartman’s early abstract expressionist masterworks have rarely been shown. These canvases, with their bounded planes of color and painterly passages, are influenced by Hans Hofmann’s “push and pull” theory of painting, which played a key role in art education at the department in the 1960’s and informed the Berkeley School. Perhaps the hues, geomorphic forms, and wide open atmospheric fields visible in these works hint at the direction that Hartman’s work would eventually take.
The exhibition will also feature a never-before-seen series of digital infrared landscape photographs that Hartman shot and printed in 2015. With poetic titles such as Happy Hour, Family Ceremony, and Menacing Figure, Hartman used his camera to frame the manufactured landscape so as to create figurative abstractions that represent personal human experiences. Never cropping his photos, these works represent athletic feats of sight.
Airborne will also feature a special exhibition of works by alumni artists whose work has been influenced by Hartman’s teaching and artwork.
Robert Hartman was the first Director of the Worth Ryder Art Gallery, which opened the year before he arrived in 1961. This exhibition therefore represents a coming home of this brilliant artist, and a celebration of the lasting contribution he made to the department, his students, and the history of art.
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Robert Hartman exhibited his paintings and photographic works widely, including at SFMOMA, 1966; San Jose Museum of Art, 1983; Wesleyan University, 1983; the Whitney, 1973; and Richmond Art Center, 1977. Major solo exhibitions include MATRIX/BERKELEY 99 at Berkeley Art Museum, 1986; Solo Flights: the Aerial Photographs of Robert Hartman at the Oakland Museum of California, 2002; and Robert Hartman at Gallery Paule Anglim, SF, 2011.
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