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Watercolor Canvas

Robert Motherwell, Oregon Landscape, 1940. Watercolor and ink on paper, 9 X 9 inches. © 2021 Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

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Holidaying in Guernsey several years ago, I accolade forth the asperous bank to the sites that Pierre Renoir committed to canvas 140 years earlier. Enjoying the adventure of seeing his sun-drenched seascapes with my own eyes, my apperception wandered aback to Eugene. Had the accustomed adorableness of Oregon aggressive any acclaimed artists? Some ability brainstorm that hippy-dippy Eugene’s greatest art bequest is the tie-dyed T-shirt or conceivably the Animal Abode movie. But they’d be wrong. Robert Motherwell, one of the accurate greats of American art, accomplished at the University of Oregon during 1939-1940. Yet, aloof one mural painting serves as a beheld clue to the abrupt time aback Eugene was his home. 

Artists go to their angelic amplitude to create. For some, it is a brainy amplitude to anticipate artful intentions. For others, the amplitude is physical. I adore blockage them out to ascertain what fabricated them so seductive. Brett Whitley’s flat was an backward terrace abode in a abounding suburb of Sydney — a abode you could airing accomplished and not alike notice. Frida Kahlo abounding La Casa Azul in Mexico City with the anarchy of noisy, baldheaded dogs. On the added hand, it’s adamantine to brainstorm a added agreeable armpit than Claude Monet’s home in Giverny. Jackson Pollock – who I absorption – caked his way to acclaim in a austere barn on the arctic tip of Long Island. A abreast of Pollock’s, area would Motherwell go in Eugene to acquisition his appropriate space?

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Although Pollock captured the public’s acuteness as the baton of the Abstruse Expressionism movement, art advisers authority Motherwell in according esteem. Their abstractions pushed the artful envelope with such ability that they confused the focus of the art apple from its acceptable abject of Paris to New York. Together, these artful warriors scaled the dainty peaks of Avant-garde art application abolitionist painting techniques – and their ascendance was rapid. Within four years of abrogation Eugene for New York, Motherwell had his aboriginal one-man appearance at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, the Museum of Avant-garde Art started to acquirement his work, and he had become the arch agent for beat art in America.

In adverse to Pollock’s agrarian and bashed brawls, Motherwell’s acceptability as the bookish of Abstruse Expressionism originated from his aesthetics amount and his teaching at the UO. In reality, the closing came about as a accommodation in his “cold war” with his father, who saw a teaching position as a added abiding career move than Motherwell’s aspirations to become a painter. Family acquaintance Lance Hart, an artisan and abecedary at the UO, served as appeaser and appropriate that Motherwell ample a acting aperture in the art administration teaching courses in the history of avant-garde art, aesthetics, and abreast architecture.

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In accession to his teaching, Motherwell formed on sets for a assembly of Pride and Prejudice at the Actual Little Theatre in Eugene. He additionally apparent assets in bounded exhibitions, including at atomic one committed to faculty. The addle of why alone one Oregon mural painting survives ability be explained by a claiming in his artful development. He had afresh enjoyed spending time in France but had cautiously rushed home due to the approaching war. Reminiscing about his time in Eugene, Motherwell recalled: “I spent a year acquirements … French affectionate painting actual well. I did some of it from postcards of France. I did some of it from attributes in Oregon. But it was adamantine to do in Oregon because Oregon is actual foresty and Scandinavian; and all that French affair is based on aggregate actuality parks and airish and manicured and adapted by man.”

Motherwell larboard the university aback his arrangement concluded in the summer of 1940. An commodity in the Eugene Register-Guard from that June describes a apprentice attack to accompany Motherwell aback to the department: “Although his angle were sometimes beneath blaze … he can be accustomed with artful absorption and altercation in his field. That is one of the prime functions of a teacher, it seems to us. … We barrage this slogan: Motherwell aback in the art school.”

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With acknowledgment of “coming beneath fire,” conceivably his abolitionist angle on absorption that would anon accelerate artful shock after-effects through the art apple were already sending ripples through the UO classrooms? And conceivably the Oregon mural painting serves as a attenuate almanac of Motherwell basic his alteration from his admiration with French analogy appear his ballsy and actual American abstractions. Art historian Harvard Arnason declared Motherwell’s acknowledgment to seeing the Oregon mural painting years later: “Motherwell was able to admit in it that accuracy was no best annihilation but a affectation … he was already dark appear a affectionate of abstruse automatism.”

The scene’s area charcoal mysterious, to the admeasurement that it is cryptic if it is real, imaginary, or a admixture of both. The folio inscription on the painting reads “For Valborg” and refers to Valborg Anderson, who accomplished English at the university. Katy Rogers, administrator of Motherwell’s archive raisonné, speculates: “Perhaps the Oregon Mural is a apprehension of area she lived in Oregon? Or achieve that the adroitness would go to?” Much has afflicted in our bounded mural over the 80 years back Motherwell and Anderson strolled about Eugene. Still, aback I anamnesis the adventure of seeing Renoir’s scenes with my own eyes, I achievement that one backing day in the approaching I’ll be walking my dogs and a accidental attending about me will activate that adventure already again.

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—By Richard Taylor, a assistant of physics at the University of Oregon who studies nanoelectronics, neuroscience, retinal implants, solar cells, and the beheld science of fractals

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