Robert Perlman entered the Art Life at a tumultuous, strident point and place. Born in 1942 in New York City, he came of age as the post-war boom made Manhattan the capitol of the western world concerning painting and sculpture. Although Jackson Pollock had driven into a tree in 1956, others of his generation — DeKooning, Rothko, Still, Guston, Newman — were blue chips in the art market. Second-generation abstractionists like Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Frank Stella, and brash upstarts such as Rauschenberg, Johns, and the emerging Pop artists were available to Perlman just as he emerged into adulthood, and the impressions that were left upon him were to be deep and lasting.
Robert Perlman. Number 6, 2003; Number 3, 2003
He took his education in graphic design at City College of New York. His fastidious and elegant nature was well suited to design, and an innate sensitivity to the vertical, geometric, urban environment in which he lived gave his natural facility the necessary depth to excel at his chosen vocation.
Robert Perlman. Number 1, 2007
After gaining his BA, Perlman studied at the School of Visual Arts with Milton Glaser, one of the most significant designers and teachers of post-war America. Perlman recalls that time, “I remember an exchange with Milton about who would be more significant to art history, Pablo Picasso or Marcel Duchamp. I believe he was leaning toward Duchamp; I know I was enthusiastically in the Picasso camp.”
Robert Perlman. Number 6, 2012
In 1963, Midtown Manhattan was an enormous hothouse of abstraction; one could bumble from one space to another and bask in fields of color and tone. The young Perlman studied and worked here, strolling to the Whitney Museum during his lunch breaks, or to the leading galleries.
Robert Perlman. Number 3, 2014
Saturdays found midtown crawling with artists and scenesters out to keep up with the new work on view. Perlman was doing so one afternoon, when he was hit up for a match. Unfortunately, he had none to offer; and so Mark Rothko had to turn elsewhere to have his cigarette lit.
Perlman had already encountered Rothko in a much more poignant way, “I first saw one of his very large maroon paintings at the Museum of Modern Art some time earlier. That moment has etched itself into my memory as one of the early, unforgettable museum experiences. I really didn't know what I was looking at, I just knew it was thrilling standing in front of that enigmatic, dark painting. As a lot of people are likely to tell you, it felt awesome … perhaps even a bit religious.”
Robert Perlman. Number 4, 2016
Today, Perlman’s Madison Park home is filled with his art. His paintings hang in agreeable conversation with one another, while the horizontal surfaces of the room are covered, sometimes three-deep, with his sculptures. He constructs these from urban debris, implements, tools and fragments, mostly iron and steel, always decayed. His sculpture is fundamentally closer in nature to his graphic work: tight, elegant, perfectly solved problems.
Robert Perlman. Fork Figure, 2004; Flute Player, 1969
Robert Perlman. Thunder Head, 2009; Arrow Head, 2007
On the other hand, Perlman’s paintings are clean and his palette tranquil, colors bright, even when their subtlety occasionally renders them difficult to place on the color wheel. Coupled with the brilliant responsiveness of his drawing hand, Perlman’s color sense is an ongoing dialogue that is as rich as a fifty-plus year conversation ought to be.
Robert Perlman. Number 4, 2008
Robert Perlman is a genius of painted color. He uses matte acrylic paint on paper. Rectangles are subdivided into evocative geometric shapes; some of the paintings suggest landscapes, others figures, occasionally figures in landscapes seem to appear; the ogee curve of a grand piano is a regular presence. The drawings from which his paintings emerge are as delightful in their modesty as the finished pieces are. But his use of color adds a depth of immersion, making the pieces into well solved, beautifully proportioned puzzles of his own invention.
Robert Perlman. Number 1, 2006; Number 1, 2014
Perlman’s palette is distinctly New York in flavor, and the forms he chooses are ones of well-digested modernism. His compositions have evolved into a syntax distinctly his own. Over time the colors have become more saturated, the compositions more dynamic. They look like work done by an artist at the height of his powers, one who deserves to emerge from the decades-long isolation of his studio. Robert Perlman has dedicated himself for a half-century to the Art Life, and now he is beginning to enjoy a place in the art world.
Robert Perlman. Number 1, 2016
Perlman in his studio; Number 3, 2015
Robert Perlman’s paintings and sculptures are for sale, and can be seen at his website: http://robertperlman.com. Mr. Perlman is represented by ProGraphica KDR, and you can read an interview with him on their site.
Editor’s Note: This has been adapted from Mr. Hurley’s original profile. The full article can be read here.