The Right Angle
Robert Straight’s unique paintings go on exhibit this month at DCCA, so expect the unexpected.
Photograph by Jared Castaldi
A Robert Straight painting is like a kaleidoscope: Its vibrant and geometric images change with the light. Yet Straight’s pieces, with their grid-like backgrounds and angular shapes, manage to defy logic by marrying Euclidean and scattered designs. The work is original, unpredictable and difficult to categorize. And that’s the way Straight likes it.
If forced, Straight will call his work post-modernism. “I started out as a figurative painter,” he says. “Now my work is geometric, but with the combination of organic influences, so it’s not quite as overt.”
A professor of art since 1972—and an esteemed faculty member at UD since 1980—Straight has embraced painting since elementary school. Now, at 65, he embraces grief. The more agony a painting causes, the better it turns out. “The best thing for me is when I screw it up somehow,” he says.
“He seems almost like an artist-scientist to me because of the way he problem-solves and constantly incorporates new materials and techniques into his work,” says Maxine Gaiber, executive director of the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts.
Straight’s complex paintings take about a month to create. He manipulates different media to create shapes on canvas, such as encaustic (pigments mixed with hot wax), oils and acrylics, and has developed ways to apply paint other than with brushes. He also uses a handmade tool to make concentric circles; concocts his own paints from powdered pigments; employs squeegees to make ridges and lines; and experiments with laser-cut images of drawings and photographs to collage into his work.
Amy Hicks, a video and film professor at UD who recently collaborated with Straight on a narrated video piece, describes his work as “lush color-saturated paintings that make me think of lucid dreams, where layers upon layers of memory or imagination intersect and form something entirely new but completely familiar.”
Art, in other words, should be seen and felt. The world is a chaotic place, something Straight captures clearly in multi-dimensional pieces that reference astronomy and nature. Angles, colors and textures align—suggesting, at least metaphorically, that Straight’s work represents the human struggle, when mortals with conflicting personalities must unite to create order.
Straight isn’t into formulas, either. “I’ve always wanted my work to be fresh and engaging for those who view it,” he says. “When there are no surprises or challenges, I move on.”