Faculty Detail

Robert Reitzfeld

New York

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Robert Reitzfeld was an art director at several prominent advertising agencies prior to forming his own. His commercials are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. He has won over 500 creative awards.

Growing up poor in the Bronx in the '40s, the closest I ever got to art was seeing the work of cartoonists, either in the daily newspaper or in comic books. So comics were, in my formative years, my art history.

As I became more educated and sophisticated, as my taste in and understanding of art developed, my love of the comic and admiration of the cartoonist never diminished. Consequently, it seems, I always combine elements from the comics in my work. More often than not, they are barely recognizable elements, tidbits or fragments, co-opted, re-arranged or juxtaposed onto canvas, creating colorful, complicated and sometimes disorienting abstract passages. They strive to create depth on a flat 2-dimensional surface, to confuse the issue of figure ground. While being abstract, these works contain enough familiarity, through their fractured imagery, that viewers generally tend to develop and build their own stories, in effect writing their own personal comic book.

In the case of the "Untitled" abstract/comic paintings, the goal was twofold. In my ongoing desire to legitimize the cartoon, I wondered about combining two disciplines, the so called High Art and the so called low art, and seeing how, and if, they could live together... combining the seriousness of high art with the crassness and humor of low art.

Secondly, I was interested in the combination of chance alongside that of precision. While some control is possible (color, pressure on a squeegee etc.), much of the outcome of the backgrounds in these works are left to a strong design sense and chance. Meanwhile, the work of the cartoon fragment is very deliberate and precise. I find the two living together very comfortably, and the humor in these works to be rewarding, while punching a little hole in the pretentiousness of some of today's contemporary art.

The "Landskape" series is the first group of works to come out of my studio after 9/11. I live just 5 city blocks from where the #7 building fell, and witnessed the entire event through my livingroom window. It took 4 months before I could even think of making any work. When I finally returned to the studio, I had to make large, colorful, happy pictures to enable me to counter the deep sadness and depression I was feeling. These paintings are inspired by the desert backgrounds that the great George Herriman used in his "Krazy Kat" comics from the teens through the 1930s.

As I worked on this series, I came to the realization that as happy and cheerful as these paintings feel, they are also about loss, and of course, hope. I realized that my removal of the characters, along with the total emptiness of the landscape symbolized the tremendous loss of life and the horrendous destruction. Yet there is a joyousness in the humor, color and composition that offers hope. These works were, for me, cathartic, expressing what I could not express with words or tears.