“A long time is spent looking at a little wall of paint. This color next to that color. Slight vibrancies of hue. Smooth paint, raggedy paint. Edges hard and soft. There but not there. Always adjusting, adjusting, painting out, painting in. Always searching, working, for an ordering of these forms that feels right. And always the question: What does feeling right feel like? What does feeling right mean? When do you think you know?
In the Square paintings, a very important part of the work has been to try to find in each one the most dynamic yet stable composition that avoids an even grid while maintaining the equivalence of the vertical and horizontal forces.” Robert Jessup, 2019
Throughout his 40 year-long career, Robert Jessup has approached his paintings with an improvisational manipulation of form that would lead the way toward the discovery (or uncovering) of meaningful configurations. In earlier works, those configurations were representational. However, in the last few years, the search for meaningful form has gradually been taking precedent over representational imagery. The desire for the painting to find its own unique presence on the canvas and to settle into a sustained resonating chord of visual sound has become paramount for Jessup who notes, “Painting has been distilled to what for me are its fundamental questions. How is the paint spread across the surface? How is the painting’s first shape, the rectangle itself, divided and occupied by areas of different color? How do those areas interact with each other? What kind of edges are formed? Color, edge, shape, and surface. The reconciliation of the fundamental forces of the horizontal and the vertical. From a beginning in visual chaos, the struggle to determine essential things and to find a powerful harmony between them.”
Jessup's newest paintings are a further presentation of his meditations on rectangular forms shimmed neatly inside a square. Earlier entries in his Square series produced relatively balanced sequences of slightly oblong shapes in his palette of muted rosy reds and navy blues. Chromatic slabs stand on top of one another in relative ease and order. Another year in, and the confabulations of color are still settled into place, but not quite as simply. Stacks of skinny, minute slabs are crushed under giant gradients of color. Jessup has been open about how this series has chronicled his move from figurative work to complete abstraction, though viewers of his previous show, Pictures & Stories, (Conduit Gallery, Winter, 2013) may recognize his ability to impose order upon chaotic scenes.
From 1991 to 2018, Robert Jessup was a professor of Painting at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas while continuing to exhibit widely throughout the United States. During the 2016-2017 academic year, Jessup served as the Chair of the Department of Studio at the College of Visual Arts and Design, University of North Texas. He earned a B.F.A. from the University of Washington, Seattle and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Public collections include: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; The Bayly Art Museum, University of Virginia, Charlottesville and the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, New Mexico. He retired from teaching in May 2018, and is now based in Whidbey Island, Washington.
Conduit Gallery Exhibitions
- Joseph Rickards Gallery, New York, NY
- Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TX
- Schomburg Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
- Besharat Gallery, Atlanta, GA
- Galveston Art Center, Galveston, TX
- Fay Gold Gallery, Atlanta, GA
- Littlejohn Sternau Gallery, New York, NY
- Ruth Siegel Gallery, New York, NY
- Zolla Lieberman Gallery, Chicago, IL
- Nicola Jacobs Gallery, London
- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
- Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM
- Jan Turner Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
- The Amarillo Museum of Art, Amarillo, TX