Robert Seydel
Curated by Peter Gizzi

March 15 - April 21, 2007.

Robert Seydel, born in New York, NY, lives in Amherst, MA, where he is Assistant Professor of Photography at Hampshire College. He received a BFA in English and Photography from New York University and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He has taught on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and the University of Connecticut at Storrs, and served for a number of years as Director of Exhibitions at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University.

Seydel received a regional fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for
his serial work, A Short History of Portraiture. A selection from his ongoing Book of Saul was published in 2005 in 1913: A Journal of Forms, issue 2. In 2006 work from the series Eckstein-Sousa was exhibited in Five Contemporary Visual Poets at The Wright Exhibition Space in Seattle, WA. This exhibition at CUE Art Foundation marks his first solo exhibition in New York City.

Peter Gizzi grew up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. His books of poetry include The Outernationale (2007), Some Values of Landscape and Weather (2003), Artificial Heart (1998), and Periplum (1992). He has also published limited-edition chapbooks, folios, and artist books. His honors include the Lavan Younger Poet Award from the Academy of American Poets (1994) and fellowships in poetry from the Howard Foundation (1998), The Foundation for Contemporary Arts (1999), and The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2005). His work has been translated into numerous languages. He currently works for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  



Making proceeds for me by serial invention, from piece to piece and across time. The means are collage and drawing, picture as writing, scaled intimate and to the hand. Essentially I want to write an art, to make of the visual a kind of text, and have it be as well a poor art, assembled from scraps. Material is essential; scuffings carry history, which wanders throughout. In one of her journal pages from The Book of Saul, Ruth Greisman, both eponymous and real aunt and the artist of the Book, wrote: "Art an ongoing limit, open to wind. I make it thru me, draughty R." Her formulation holds throughout the Book and also across the wider field. But the Book defines the territory. It is composed of fragments and encompasses a rotation of styles, is a biography of her (our) making and consists of a pile of pictures in and across time. Artifacts of a life, both hers and mine; the refuse and rejecta of days, "open to wind."

Other figures besides Ruth run through the work. Her brother Saul, for example (the two together make up my initials, and also carry my mother's), and the recurring Droon, a maker of drawings ("Droon is to Draw as Draw is to Coleslaw"), and previously Welch, a professor, and Eckstein-Sousa, and others. Personas, altar egos, others, not myself. Every figure reveals aspects of the total form, which is open and green. Art, as creation and as sign of primary Imagination, is not objects but a state, a kind of fluid. It is revelation of a sort that both objects and figures are the excess of. Nor is it happenstance that the face, the portrait, the animal, fantastic or otherwise, is central. Everything starts from there. Children always begin with it: two eyes, a mouth, animal or human - a round, split and trussed and multiplied and confused. The portrait is also artifact, collage of time, a token and remnant. In her work Ruth is always speaking to herself: "To collage night, against and for stays." The wind is what comes through, barely glued down, sign of what maker here.




by Peter Gizzi

Robert Seydel's compositions are saturated with visual pleasures but they also invite one to read, to enter, to be undone by them. Who knew such light could come from torn paper, or that the occult processes of time could be revealed by bricolage, wrack, spitball wads, wrappers, and bottle caps. He works almost exclusively in notebooks. He calls them "knotbooks"; that is to say, he works not on paper but on pages. And so many of his tools are a writer's: whiteout, pencil and pen, erasers, tape, type, and newsprint which he uses to capture light and color, the movement between what is lasting and fleeting, conducting acts of salvage rather than consumption. In this way he makes something gorgeously animated out of raw material that is, on one hand, familiar and, on another, alien and even unwanted.

Seydel's work, viewed collectively, has a voice as much as a vision whether its tone is elegiac, monumental, or whimsical. In the past decade or so, he has produced hundreds of works in multiple ongoing and interrelated series that move freely between lyric and narrative modes. Samuel Beckett once said the task of the artist is to find a form to accommodate the mess, a statement that describes well the openness and flexibility of Seydel's art and its crucial link to the materials of everyday life. He is a strong believer in art-making as a process not just of representing but of uncovering a world that would otherwise remain hidden. The uncanny likenesses rendered in his various portraits show a love of metamorphic intensity and of mysteries on the verge of being revealed. So often what he is unveiling is the face. Blake's notion that "the most sublime act is to set another before you" perfectly captures Seydel's sense of the sacred in relation to the face, the image, and the made thing. Ultimately, his works convey perception itself as a devotional act.


YOUNG ART CRITICS: Jennifer Stob on Robert Seydel