Selected Paintings & Works on Paper
For more than three decades, Robin Utterback was a central figure in Houston´s art community, and his subtle abstractions brought him international acclaim. Born in Holton, Kansas, he attended Rice University and was among the first artists in Rice´s BFA program. He began exhibiting in 1974 at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Houston (later Watson/de Nagy) and he has been featured in numerous area shows, including the CAMH´s 1981 Four Painters, the MFAH´s 1985 Fresh Paint, and DiverseWorks´ 1999 Five Artists: New Works. In 1992 he was the focus of a Perspectives exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum and a large overview at the Galveston Arts Center. His 1996 and 1998 solo exhibitions at Donahue/Sosinski Gallery, New York, were well received, and in 2004 he presented his work at Salle Conrath and Galerie Suisse in Strasbourg. After his untimely death, Utterback was memorialized with a major retrospective at the Galveston Arts Center. The estate of the artist is now represented by Meredith Long & Co., which presented a survey of his paintings in 2010.
Utterback´s meditative abstractions were indebted to a tradition of gesture painting established by Lee Krasner, Joseph Glasco, and more recently Brice Marden. Ranging from highly formal abstraction to experiments with pattern and decoration, Utterback brought to his studio practice a consistent sense of inquiry. His work could at times resonate with a calligraphic energy—at other times he subsumed gesture in favor of a unified field. Writing for the catalogue for the Galveston Arts Center memorial exhibition, William C. Agee observed:
Robin was an important painter by any standard, his art deep and rich and expansive in ways it will take us years to understand fully. He was as his art, an anti-celebrity in an age of spectacle, quiet, thoughtful, contemplative, committed to serious and ambitious painting, shunning anything that hinted of the facile, or the easy novelty…. He let the work take him where it might, as Matisse did, exploring new pictorial ideas and possibilities. For Robin, art was an act of self-discovery (as it is for all of us). Art was its own justification…. Robin´s art had the power to carry and speak of authentic human expression and experience in and of itself, the way the best art always does.
The MFAH made its first acquisition of Utterback´s work in 1978, during Agee´s tenure as director, and the museum has continued its commitment to the artist over the years. Wishing to make a contribution in memory of Peter C. Marzio, Agee asked the museum staff to select a drawing from the artist´s estate. After extensive review, this drawing was chosen with Agee´s approval. An exceptionally beautiful work, balancing the formal grid with an improvised web, it reflects a significant aspect of Utterback´s career as yet unrepresented in the MFAH´s collection. A profoundly personal tribute, this memorial gift is welcome indeed.