Robert Thiele’s exhibition “And Elsewhere” reviewed in the Miami New Times. The exhibition, curated by Tyler Emerson-Dorsch is on view from February 3 – March 11, 2023.
In a sense, Robert Thiele‘s latest exhibition couldn’t have come to be if he hadn’t spent decades in Florida.
This isn’t because the 81-year-old artist’s work is particularly thematic to Miami or the Sunshine State, where he’s lived and worked since taking a teaching job at Miami Junior College in 1966. The small paintings that make up “And Elsewhere” are covered in black circles, about as far from the typical tropical kitsch usually found around the state. Nor do they particularly relate to any Floridian art movements. A description of the new work by gallery Emerson Dorsch makes comparisons to abstract expressionists, in particular Robert Motherwell’s compositionally similar “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” series.
No, what really makes it a uniquely Floridian work of art is the material the circles are painted on: old magazines Thiele let age and ferment in the intense Miami humidity.
“I was marooned in Miami during the pandemic,” Thiele says. He had started cleaning his studio and found a cache of old magazines, some dating back to when he was a student at Kent State. “I tend to be an inveterate collector of stuff.”
He was drawn in particular to a 1931 issue of Art in America that he had used in an older project. Rather than throwing the magazine out, he used it as art material. “I love the patina of the old magazines.” He started taking the magazine pages, painting circles over the images in gesso, a type of paint generally used as a primer, leaving only the text behind. “I call them cancellations,” says the artist. “I meant to cancel the image, so it’s no longer read as a particular magazine.”
Plenty of other artists have used similar ideas of deletion and appropriation. Thiele says he thought of Robert Rauschenberg’s infamous Erased de Kooning Drawing, where the former artist rubbed out a drawing of the latter’s and presented it as a new work, combining the creative act with a destructive one. Appropriation artists like Barbara Kruger and Richard Prince have made careers out of recontextualizing photos they didn’t take. Others have played with found material, from Lonnie Holley’s scrap sculptures to Basquiat’s paintings on discarded doors and torn-down fences found around Manhattan and Brooklyn. And lest we forget the father of them all, Marcel Duchamp, whose work includes the infamous urinal-turned-artwork Fountain and the mustachioed copy of the Mona Lisa he named L.H.O.O.Q. (It roughly translates from French to “She’s got a hot ass.”)
In other words, Thiele is in great artistic company with these new works. He’s even appropriated himself, making sculptures out of his discarded canvases. His latest work is a testament to the idea that artistic inspiration and tools can come from something as intangible as subtropical humidity.
“[I’ve] always thought of myself as a Midwesterner,” says Thiele, who divides his time between Miami and New York and appreciates the ability to work outside year-round in Florida. “I can’t think in terms of working somewhere else because I’ve been here so long.”