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Voyages of discovery

Robert JessupRobert Jessup’s work is always changing.

“That’s the only reason I paint,” he said. “They’re voyages of discovery.”

The professor of drawing and painting, above, in the College of Visual Arts and Design will show off the latest evolution in his work — four vast paintings that summarize his search to redefine his painting in more formal, non-representational terms — with his one-man exhibition Robert Jessup: Four Paintings, 2014 Aug. 25-Sept. 25 at UNT on the Square. A reception will take place 5:30 p.m. Sept. 5.

The exhibition shows the body of work Jessup made during his tenure as a UNT Institute for the Advancement of the Arts faculty fellow. The institute awards two or three fellowships annually to allow faculty members a semester off from teaching to pursue creative research in the arts.

Jessup - Prisoner in MadridJessup used the time to pursue a new style of painting that would have the feel of drama and narrative without the use of recognizable images or symbols. Through the compositional dialogue of line, shape, and color, he has been seeking to create powerful configurations that would have a resolute identity without being identifiable.

The inspiration came from a monthlong trip to Europe five years ago, where he intended to study the traditions of Baroque realism, and he returned filled with the energy of the 20th century.

“I came back with the sense of wanting to be more ambitious in my painting,” he said.

Jessup began his career with storylike paintings featuring large stylized characters and heavily textured surfaces. He later used more realistic representational tropes. After he returned from Europe, he transformed his pictorial inventions into bizarre surrealist visions. His work became more frenetic and improvisational, although he still depended on the presence of identifiable symbols and imagery. Last year, he was able to let go of representation.

“I was finally ready for the paintings to define themselves on their own terms,” he said.

Jessup - Storm CatcherThe UNT on the Square exhibition will consist of four large paintings. A Prisoner of Madrid (above) features the maroons and greens of that city. Storm Catcher (left) is dramatic and moody with dark oranges and greens clashing with blue and blacks. Norseman’s Song (below) is more open and simplistic. A Ghost of the High Plateau (top, with Jessup) is active, with shapes interacting and breaking apart.

Jessup always had been productive, creating two to three paintings a month. But the semester off allowed him to nearly double his output. He has nearly 50 canvases from this last year that take up one side of his home studio.

Jessup has been at UNT since 1991, and his work is displayed in numerous private and public collections including at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

 “It’s so great that the university administration, through its funding and support of the IAA, recognizes how important the creative arts are to UNT,” Jessup said.

Jessup - Norseman's SongJessup is still experimenting. His latest venture is white painting, in which he tries to make his forms lighter and lighter until the configurations disappear.

Jessup said it always comes down to that blank surface and the question of how to make a picture. The paintings are “demanding things” he has to solve and sit through.

“When you get it right, it’s just all of these movements, the way they intertwine,” he said. “It’s just really satisfying.”

- Jessica DeLeón, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

(Above, Jessup with A Ghost of the High Plateau. Photo by Michael Clements/URCM)

Posted on: Thu 07 August 2014

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