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"How can you make an image without the traditional paintbrush?" asks Robert Straight, University of Delaware professor of art.
The answer, for anyone familiar with his abstractionist paintingsknown for their dense layers, vibrant colors, intricate surface patterns, detailed paint application and attention to natureis perhaps best evidenced in two of his exhibits currently on display at the Philadelphia International Airport and the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (DCCA) in Wilmington.
In "A Modern Wilderness," a 20- by 8-foot display located in Terminal C of the Philadelphia airport, Straight has forgone canvas and paper to create an elaborate series of paintings on thinly cut cross sections of trees, the intact bark encircling the edges.
"The oval shapes and their systematic arrangements seem like clustered islands floating across the wall," says Leah Douglas, director of exhibitions at the airport. "Each painting features its own unique markings yet, together, there is harmonious interaction."
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The airport specifically selects artwork by greater Philadelphia artists as "a service to our 31 million passengers," Douglas explains, and Straight's exhibit is drawing much attention and interaction.
"It is so colorful, so powerful, it's hard to miss," she adds. "Children run up to see it and families follow."
That was the goal for Straight, who spent a year creating the airport exhibit, which will remain on display until January 2012. "If you do something quiet," he says, "people don't notice it."
It makes sense then that his solo exhibition at DCCA, titled "The Elliptical Frontiers" and on display until September, would feature 20 "dynamic images that play with pattern and design."
"Bob explores paint application," says J. Susan Isaacs, DCCA curator of special projects. "He manipulates various materials, building up the canvases in layers of acrylic, encaustic, oil, laser cut paper and collage of found object textures. And he utilizes innovative techniques in applying and removing paint from his canvases, many times creating his own tools and seeking out object patterns to apply and remove color."
His pieces are intricate and detailed. Or as one person told Straight, "There's a lot of stuff going on."
Again, that's his goal. Straight, who is inspired by nature and takes images and ideas from the world around him, says he wants to captivate his audience's attention.
"People tend to skim over things," he says. "But if they take the time and effort to look at these paintings, they will be surprised by them. They'll find things they didn't see the first time."
That same concept applies to his airport piece, according to Douglas, the exhibition's director.
"Like the natural world," she explains, "Bob's elaborate hand painted surfaces always provide something new to discover."