Project Description

Robert Füerer

 

Robert Füerer
Pingdong, Taiwan,
Website: www.robertfuerer.com • Email: art@robertfuerer.com

EDUCATION

B.F.A. Painting & Drawing

The School of Art + Design at Purchase College, SUNY,

A.A.S. Visual Art and Design Degree

Salt Lake Community College, S.L.C.C.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

“Down the Rabbit Hole” Purchase Library Gallery “Americana” Triangle Gallery

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

“The Factory” The Chelsea Art Museum
“Art Is Dangerous” Neuberger Museum of Art
“Best of SUNY Student Art Exhibition” NY State Museum “Criticsʼ Choice from the, Best of SUNY Student Art” “Wide Open” Triangle Gallery
“Works on the Rye Marsh Land” Gallery
“The City” “Hamilton Lofts” Temporary Gallery
“An Afternoon with Art & Horses” Boulder Brook Equestrian “New York” Richard and Dolly Mass Gallery
“Small Works Show” Mamaroneck Artists’ Guild
“Works on the Rye Marsh Land” Gallery

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Kathleen Kline, “Robert Fuerer,” The Submission, Issue 23 Ebony Brown, “Best of Show,” Picturepurchase.blogspot.com The Journal News, “Subway,” Education Outlook
Salt Lake City Tribune, “Forthgear Names Graphic Designer,”

Aug. 2007 – Jan. 2010

Purchase, NY

Sept. 1998 – Dec. 2001

Salt Lake City, UT

Jan. 27 – Aug. 30, 2010, NY Feb. 2009, Purchase, NY

June 2009 Chelsea, NYC April 2009 Purchase, NY Jan. 2009 Albany, NY

Feb. 2009 Albany, NY
Oct. 2009 Purchase, NY Feb. 2009 Rye, NY
June 2009 Harlem, NYC Oct. 2008 Scarsdale, NY Sept. 2008 Purchase, NY June 2008 Mamaroneck, NY Feb. 2008 Rye, NY

Fall 2009 Aug. 12, 2009 Jan. 11, 2009 Jan. 9, 2001

SELECTED PUBLIC AND CORPORATE COLLECTIONS

The Thomas Schwartz Collection Bodine Collection
New Balance Corporate Headquarters State University of New York, Mural Worlds Gym

NYC, U.S.A. Scarsdale, NY Shanghai, China Purchase, New York Kaohsiung, Taiwan

AWARDS
• Full-Ride Merit Scholarship, SUNY Purchase for the year of 2009
• Best of show, “Best of SUNY Student Art Exhibition” Selected works

competition between 64 SUNY Universities 2009
• Award of excellence, Artist guild Mamaroneck Small works show 2008

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Down the Rabbit Hole

“The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is “man” in a higher sense – he is “collective man,” a vehicle and moulder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind.”

(Carl Gustav Jung , from ‘Psychology and Literature’, 1930)

“Down the Rabbit Hole” refers to my descent into my own unconscious as a means of bringing subconscious and archetypal material into my studio practice. It is the journey I had to take to make this body of work, and as the work continues to grow and develop, I continue to be amazed at where this series of paintings has taken me. With the following narrative, I would like to outline recent developments in my art practice, shed some light on some of the basic symbols that have emerged, and also point to what I believe to have been key instigating and nourishing factors for me.

Although I am Swiss I grew up in America, and I have lived in Taiwan for over nine years. I consider myself somewhat of a modern-day flâneur, a man of the crowd. The diversity of people that roam city streets invigorates me – each city block is like a little microcosm of modern life – and this is the major reasons I chose to move to New York in 2007 and study Painting at the State University of New York. Being only 40 minutes from midtown Manhattan meant that trips into the city could be done frequently and easily.

Right from the moment I arrived in New York City, and I was able to get my first look at the hustle-bustle of the crowds and the traffic, and that city’s unique mix of toughness and romanticism, I knew this was what I wanted to paint.

My French easel was too bulky to take around town with me, so I bought a cigar-box-sized easel, and with it and my oil paints I would go into the city to make small plein air paintings in Times Square. Then, back in my on-campus studio, I used these field studies as source material for larger-scaled works. These small, New York City paintings were painted in bold, impasto brush strokes, and made with such brevity that I was always working wet-into-wet, which is something I had grown accustomed to while painting plein air landscapes in Taiwan. In fact, it was Taiwan’s sunrises and sunsets that first got me interested in light and trying to capture it with paint.   

The use of these strokes is likely due to my embarrassing obsession with Van Gogh’s brushwork. I will never forget December 19th, 2009 when I spent three hours standing in front of “The Potato Eaters” in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It was an emotional moment for me. This was the first time I had ever been so moved by a work of art, and as I was standing there in front of it all kinds of thoughts went through my head: How had a stretched piece of fabric with colors in toothpaste consistency smeared across its surface brought me to tears? Can art actually change the world?  How can I affect others in this same way? I began to have a huge desire to make work that people could stay with longer.  As I counted the brush strokes that made up the faces and hands, I realized that it was the honesty of how the workers were depicted that moved me so much. Van Gogh was able to capture the lonely existence of this family of farmers who spend all day working on their potato fields, then sit down at night to an austere supper of boiled potatoes with no butter, and coffee with no milk or sugar.

After that experience in front of “The Potato Eaters” I realized that the artistic movement called Social Realism intrigued me most. Social Realism was an American artistic movement that developed during the Great Depression. Artists associated with this movement frequently took as subjects social and racial injustice, and economic hardship and they would often portray members and activities of the working class in a heroic light. This style of painting depicted scenes that convey a message of social or political protest, sometimes tinted with satire.

I believe my interest in Social Realism is rooted in the fact that my father is a common person who has struggled because of the class structure in America. Being an immigrant from Switzerland, my father said that he always felt like an alien. Painting the workingman is my way to talk honestly about my father as well as the condition of other tax-payers. My father, like The Potato Eaters, works to support his family. Most laborers’ lives don’t pan out according to the American Dream, however, these workers can still find purpose in their lives, even if it is as humble as meeting the goal of keeping food on their families’ tables.

Times Square, or, “The Crossroads of the World,” has achieved iconic status as a world landmark and is a symbol of both New York City and the United States. Almost all of the paintings from this series are set in this intersection. It was the iconic status that first intrigued me, and then after getting there it was the bright, neon lights that caught my eye, followed closely by the massive crowds of tourists (each time I visited I felt myself completely disappear into those crowds!), but the next thing my eye lingered on is also what I have since spent the most time reflecting on: a solitary garbage man in a bright red jumpsuit, numbed to the nonsense all around him, gathering trash bags created by this tourist-fueled, money-making machine, like he did the day before, and like he would do the next day, and probably even in few more hours. I was mesmerized, and drawn towards this worker like no other subject I have come in contact with before or since.

In Carl Jung’s book, the “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, he says that “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order. At this moment I felt as if I decoded the Garbageman’s secret order and that I needed to reveal it to the world. I found out later that this man’s name was George and that he would become one of my own “potato eaters.”

The workers depicted in my paintings and sculptures keep Times Square moving. They are the glue that holds society together. I see them as beacons of hope because, like my father, they never give up. To me, these pieces are portraits of unsung heroes. They are the garbage men, traffic cops, subway drivers, and concession stand workers, and no one ever thanks them.

I did not have to dig too deeply to figure out my fascination with George’s red jumpsuit. Coveralls have been worn by the men in the Fuerer family for 4 generations now, starting over one hundred years ago when my great-grandpa Fuerer fixed steam engines for the Swiss railroad in his coveralls. One of the only surviving photos of his son, my grandfather, is of him wearing a jumpsuit in a metal shop. Because my family moved to America, and because of the fact that he died at a young age, my recollection of him is based on that photo. Many of my fondest memories consist of talking to my father while he fixed his clunker cars. Almost all my memories of my father include jumpsuits. Now, when I’m in my painting, studio I keep the tradition alive by going through my daily ritual of putting on my red coveralls and mixing up a pallet of paints every morning, even if I haven’t decided what to paint yet, and I now wonder if my own daughter will have the same memory of me when she grows up. For me, the jumpsuit is a symbol for the father-figure who will provide and protect at any cost.

The depiction of workers was an engaging subject, though I soon grew dissatisfied with how I was painting them. My frustrations came from realizing that the strokes I was using in response to what I had admired in Van Gogh were flawed. They were overdone. The texture spread out too evenly on the canvas created a static visual noise. Beyond texture problems, I also felt like there was an issue with the color palette I had been using. I decided the pieces had become what I would call, “colorfully dull.” For example, when looking closely at overall color relationships in finished paintings of this period I would grimace at instances of cross-canceling of saturation, such as a bright red suit in one area of the painting in direct competition with a bright building in another area, made with a green of similar brightness. Now imagine a dozen other such cases all trying to exist together in one composition. Not knowing exactly how to improve my urban paintings, I felt stuck.

During this time of more inspiration that perpetration, my mentor, and Professor Michael Torlen assured me that it was normal for artists to have periods when they just need to pause and think about where they have come, and what direction they want to move towards. Torlen at the same time suggested that rather than stare at blank canvases I should get myself down to the library and begin reading the theories and writings of Carl Jung. Professor Torlen believed that Jung’s philosophies may help me shed some light on my peculiar fascination with “George”.

The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1895-1961) was one of the founding fathers of analytical psychology. He emphasized understanding the psyche through exploring the worlds of dreams, art, mythology, world religion and philosophy.  Jung developed his own distinctive approach to the study of the human mind. In his early years when working in a Swiss hospital with schizophrenic patients and working with Sigmund Freud, he took a closer look at the mysterious depths of the human unconscious. Jung’s writings have become key in deciphering why I paint what I paint.   

Of all of Jung’s theories, I found what appealed to me most were the writings on archetypes. These, according to Jung, are certain behavioral patterns or models that at different times people will tap into. Jung suggested that the psyche was composed of three components: the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the ego represents the conscious mind while the personal unconscious contains memories, including those that have been suppressed. Jung also suggested that the number of existing archetypes is not static or fixed. I discovered that the archetype of the “father” was a perfect fit for George. However my use of him as a father figure was only the beginning of George’s potential, and I would soon find out that my subconscious had bigger plans for George’s persona. 

That is when the global economic crisis of 2008 hit. The collapse of the real estate market devastated my own family as well as millions of others including many close friends. My wife and I lost all of our savings that we had invested in the stock market. Those were our darkest hours of marriage. Because of the extreme stress we temporarily separated. I was at an all time low. At the time I was going through the motions of doing one of my signature urban paintings from a plein air study when I had the sudden urge to destroy something beautiful. Up until that moment most of my art had been about hope and optimism, but somehow that moment changed everything. My appetite for destruction influenced me to jump down the rabbit hole. I remember being so infuriated that I painted a sinister rabbit head onto one of the innocent ladies in the middle of the canvas.

At the time of painting the first rabbit head, I did not realize the significance that this symbol would play in the rest this series, but the rabbit became a crucial device for digging deeper into my artistic depths. The question of what it meant began to plague me day and night. It took months to slowly scratch the surface of the rabbit’s identity, when all of a sudden it came to me: I was taken back to my childhood when I was 8 years old, at a moment when my life was tainted. It was on a sunny summer morning, when my first pet, a rabbit I named “Black Ninja” twisted into a monster, biting me, tearing out my sister’s pet duck’s jugular, and cannibalizing it’s own babies. It was then that the rabbit’s ears became the handle that allowed my father to end its life with one swing of my Louisville slugger.

The sound of the shrieking half eaten babies crawling on only their front legs because their hind legs had been completely eaten off, combined with the crunch and the sight of all the lifeless body has never left me. I was in shock from all the carnage but somehow I was also oddly pleased, happy it would not kill again. But in the process, I had become the murderer. I felt completely responsible. Where had I gone wrong? What had I done or not done to create such a monster? I loved my Black Ninja, she was my responsibility and yet her evil actions caused me to hate her even more for killing the helpless babies. The truth is, I hated myself as well because I believed that, had I not gone bawling to my father then I would still at least have my beloved black Ninja, or maybe my father would have at least disposed of her less ruthlessly.

I trace my loss of innocence back to this moment, the moment I realized that life is full of heartbreak and that something as cute as a little bunny could become a demon. The reality that something so cute could do something as destructive as eating its own children is something that I do not doubt was life-altering for me, but it was not until this concept had found expression in my art that I was able or even willing to fully explore it. In the meantime, however, it had gotten buried along with the Black Ninja and her five tiny babies.

In Carl Jung’s article, “After the Catastrophe” (1945), he said that “It is a fact that cannot be denied: the wickedness of others becomes our own wickedness because it kindles something evil in our own hearts,” and this helps to explain the emotions I felt after witnessing the scenes of a mother rabbit devouring it’s own young, and my father exploding into anger and in the heat of passion mindlessly pulverizing the Black Ninja in front of my sister and me with my toy bat. My painting of this new fiend had unknowingly destroyed all of my beautiful sunny cityscapes and turned my art world upside down.

“Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” This was definitely true in my case. As I mentioned before, all my artwork and even lifestyle before the appearance of rabbit were very optimistic. On the contrary, and to my huge surprise, I had so much suppressed negativity trapped in my subconscious since the rabbit ordeal that it finally erupted to a conscious level. My “shadow” archetype had now revealed itself and made itself known as a force to be reckoned with. Jung says in cases like mine, that I am linking to more primitive animal instincts, which had been superseded during my early childhood by the conscious mind. In Jungian psychology, the shadow is one of the three most recognizable archetypes, and it is a part of the unconscious mind which consists of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, instincts and regrets.

Through art, I had discovered the “dark side” of my ego. Jung believed that this is where the evil that we are capable of is often stored. Actually, the shadow is amoral — neither good nor bad, just like animals. An animal is capable of tender care for its young and vicious killing, but it doesn’t choose to do either. It just does what it does. It is “innocent.” But from our human perspective, the animal world can sometimes look rather brutal and inhuman. The shadow, then, is like a garbage can for the parts of ourselves that we can’t quite admit to.

Discovery of my shadow along with coming to terms with my childhood nemesis fueled a hunger for the increasingly bizarre subject matter. The new obsession with my darkest childhood fears brought back other memories of this period in my life. Not long after the Black Ninja’s demise my grandfather, a professor of world history, brought me back a hand painted replica of Egyptian hieroglyphics on papyrus. The ancient pictographs contained different kinds of forms, ranging from strictly human, to hybrid creatures. My father hung the mysterious papyrus on my wall above my bed. This image was one of the last things I saw every night before I went to sleep for over a decade. These bizarre, hybrid deities will always be ingrained in my mind.

The deity that is most in the foreground for me is Anubis, a jackal-headed god. As a young child I mistook his two large ears for those of a rabbit, but in later in life, through seeing different versions of Anubis, I came to understand that he actually had the snout of a dog and not a rabbit. Now, through recent research, I also found that Anubis was the most important god of the dead and that pertaining to the distinctive black color of Anubis, in addition to simply being a conservative, localized color choice, it also carries a symbolic content in its similarity to rotting flesh.

My subconscious linked this memory with the appearance of rabbit ears on a sculpture of a woman that I was working on. This breakthrough excited me greatly. I went on to spent six months sculpting full-time, and during this time I found that my creative ideas began to flow more freely and actions became more spontaneous. Then something happened that I will never forget. I met Chuck Close at the Neuberger Museum of art.

He was attending the same opening that my friends and I were – we were there for the food he was there because he was a friend of the curator’s and because he had a piece in the show. When I first caught a glimpse of him cruising around in his high-tech wheelchair I thought I was going to freak out if I didn’t get a chance to at least say hi and that I was a huge fan. Thankfully my friend Nikki lured him in with her suggestive dress and glances. Not Surprisingly, he chose her out of our group, wheeled himself over, and struck up a conversation. We all spoke for some time and he asked me what kind of art I did. After I told him that I’m a painter, he said with his limp handshake, “Keep the faith.” I don’t think anyone has said anything to me as powerful as those three words. I had just met my biggest living artist hero, the man could only continue to make paint with a brush strapped to his wrist with tape because he was nearly paralyzed from the neck down, and he was telling me to “keep the faith.” I suddenly felt very sheepish about my dubious reasons for not painting. If this man would not let paralysis stop him, then I figured that I could find a way to get past not being happy with my overly saturated palette and my excessive, impasto brushwork.

My palette had been dry for over 6 months but that night I practically ran back to my studio and started to paint. With what I had learned from sculpture, and with changing interests in my subject matter, I was looking less at David Kapp and Yvonne Jacquette, painters of merely competent urban scenes, and I started looking at Balthus and the Leipzig School, especially the work of Neo Rauch. The unusual situations in their pictures appealed to me. I began to paint without knowing exactly where the piece would take me.   

To further embrace the shadow discovery I made the decision to darken my palette. In the hope of conveying my message more clearly, dark-light-bright would be my new approach. Originally, with my plein air background, I had a habit of using a more impressionistic color approach, with darker areas being achieved with daubs of purples and blues, but like the surface of an Anubis sculpture, and the associations that it carries, these blacks were blacks of unequivocal blackness! I used this “Anubis black” to paint actual beings within my new narratives. Executed with the darkest tone possible they are devoid of all details, making them read as black-color-holes in the composition. These alien silhouettes of men, toy bats, and rabbits went against everything I had ever been taught or seen in art history. These inventive black holes left me doubting myself and feeling a little like what Picasso must have felt after he had finished painting the women in “Demoiselles d’Avignon.” However, my impulses to hide the new pieces or scrape all the black off it and start over were overpowered by my curiosity to find out how my new painting language would work when juxtaposed with my figurative language.

As I had expected, the addition of these Shadows has resulted in many conversations and mixed reviews. Often people would say things like, “… if only it didn’t have that huge, black [figure, rabbit, bat, etc.] in the middle.” On the other hand at one of my interviews with Robert Storr, The Dean of Yale school of Art, he also confronted me on the subject, saying that he was curious about the silhouettes and wanted to know what they represented. I described to him the Jungian principle of how a shadow is “an archetypal symbol for unconscious minds, repressed weaknesses, and regret, and that it is also a link to a more primitive animal instinct. Storr said he felt that it was the most interesting development in my paintings. To my further delight, he also said that “Everyone at Yale loves my paintings” And that he would “see me soon.” Needless to say, Two Thumbs up from Storr and Yale was quite the shot in the arm.   

Feeling invigorated, my new method of painting allowed for more freedom – extreme changes such as taking out entire characters and adding a new background became commonplace. Paintings I was happy with just a few months before were now seen objectively, and I would feel no remorse about taking sandpaper to a thickly painted area, obliterating it completely, so that I could broaden the narrative, or the deepen the spatial complexity, or enrich the composition. Where my painting process was once calculated, it had become adventurous.

  Carl Jung said that “Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.” The symbol of the garbage man was also developing. With his seemingly chaste morals, his unbreakable resolve, and his ascetic self-denial of the pleasurable side of modern city life, I began to see him as a martyr and an almost deified figure, or a kind of social-realist-Superman.

In this new light, and in the context of these implied narratives, he takes on the new responsibility of being the Abrogator of Rabbits. On top of the normal duties of his vocational role, the garbage man, or working man, is also a quasi-philanthropist-super hero, and his smelly, sweaty, garbage-stained, red uniform doubles as his superhero costume. His weapon is a baseball bat, and with it, he battles bunnies. These new narrative developments led to a new approach to my content, as it took on a new surrealist approach.

According to Jung, “The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their conflagration which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.” The journey of my recent art projects has taken me on an extensive exploration of my psyche, which in turn led me deep down into the rabbit hole. My large-scale painterly realism paintings that I began when I arrived in New York have flourished in a direction that I could never have imagined. It is exciting to see how these themes of social dysfunction are now charged with the pains of my childhood memories along with the current state of middle-class America. The figural representation of Social Realism I started out with has matured and has started to take a surrealistic turn. Surrealism has become a key factor in the development of the Archetypal figures the rabbits, the father, the hero, and the shadow who act out narratives the battle for deliverance from the mother rabbit. This paradigm shift has also had effects on all other aspects of my process.  I now paint with a much broader language, and my style and content have matured drastically. Above all, by harnessing my new archetypal material and incorporating it into my art, there is no limit to where my subconscious can take me.

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Lynn Chen, “I Remember the Rabbits,”  Kaohsiung Art Go Go 12, Dec. 2010

The Connecticut Post, “Making The Art Scene,”  Connecticut Post , Feb. 21 2010

Art Daily, “New Exhibition by Robert Fuerer,”  www.artdaily.org, Feb. 2010

ConteArt, “Robert Fuerer,” www.ConteArt.com,                   Feb. 2010

Christie Rotondo, “The man who loves art,”  www.Hercampus.com, Feb. 2010

Pamala Davis, “There’s an artist in the library,”  www.wordpress.com, Jan. 2010

Westchester, “Exhibition At Purchase College,”  www.westchester.com, Feb. 9, 2010

Kathleen Kline, “Robert Fuerer,” The Submission, Issue 23 Fall 2009

Ebony Brown, “Best of Show,” Picturepurchase.blogspot.com       Aug. 2009

The Journal News, “Subway,” Education Outlook                  Jan. 11, 2009

Salt Lake City Tribune, “Forthgear Names Graphic Designer,” Jan. 9, 2001