Robert Natkin

American, 1930 - 2010

Untitled, 1957, oil on canvas, 74 1/2 x 86 inches

Most on White, c. 1957, collage on board, 12 x 9 1/2 inches

Untitled, 1957, mixed media on paper, 37 x 23 inches


Untitled, c. 1958, pastel and graphite on paper, 7 1/2 x 7" to 9 x 12" shown below


A painter of intensely colorful abstraction, Robert Natkin’s work often runs in series he created using columns, grids and shifting planes that include this early jazz oriented example titled Coltrane. These works, with vertical stripes alternating between thick and thin, decorative and textured, are cheerful and light, invoking a specific lyricism. His painting is inspired by the color used by Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard, and the Cubism of Paul Klee, in addition to female jazz singers like Nina Simone, and films, particularly the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Natkin was born in Chicago and graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1952. He married painter Judith Dolnick and they lived in Chicago where Natkin and a friend opened the Wells Street Gallery to give young Chicago artists a chance to market their artwork. The gallery operated from 1957 to 1959. After the Wells Gallery closed, Natkin moved to New York and began showing with Poindexter Gallery.

In a letter to Leda Natkin Nelis, Robert Natkin 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.”

Natkin has been a Ford Foundation recipient and an artist-in-residence teaching at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.“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.” (Robert Natkin. Exhibition catalogue, Flanders, Minneapolis, 2004. Introduction by Leda Natkin Nelis)