A founding member of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement, Robert Kushner is known today for his dazzling paintings and drawings of flowers and botanical images. In this series, he has returned to his early interests of working with the figure. These new drawings of figures, elaborated on collages of antique book pages and sheet music, continue his exploration of drawing images in ink and oil paint over found historical papers. The printed pages that Kushner has used span the early 1700s through the 20th century and come from a variety of cultures and sources: America, Japan, Tibet, Turkey, India, France, Germany, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, England, and Italy. Many of them were acquired while traveling, some were gifts from friends, and others were purchased as damaged books.
Drawing from models in his studio directly onto a collage of pages, Kushner also introduces gold leaf, small areas of color and additional collage. Sometimes these paintings on paper takeform very quickly; others are worked on over a period of weeks or months. The finished works offer a number of layers of possible reading: there is the literal reading of the underlying text, the observation of the organic grid of drawn lines (which create the sensation of three-dimensional volumes), and the opportunity to decode the compositional and spatial logic of the patterned and gilded elements and blocks of color. Kushner’s references as a draftsman are to classical modernism, particularly the drawings of Matisse and Maillol. He places these classically rendered nudes into juxtaposition with discarded materials—the pages themselves—posing questions as to the function and relevance of books and information in today’s world.