The Vietnam War, civil rights, death, women’s rights, space exploration, and volcanic eruptions were all topics for large-scale photomontages of my 1966-1982 creative period. Living in the Bronx and teaching art at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus, my artwork was enmeshed with the turmoil and danger of the times: the birth and death of our first baby, race riots in the Bronx near our house, assassinations of Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, student arrests, the bombing of Fordham University’s Student Center, the deaths of soldiers in Vietnam, and the horror of My Lai. It was a period of daily conflict and tragedy. Weekly the news was recorded in Life Magazine in full color. I bought four subscriptions to Life and sorted and collated photos of the carnage and quandaries. Then I cut, tore, mirrored, blended, and pasted the photos together to create new symbolic, large-scale images.
I was introduced to paper-collage techniques while teaching art in Greenwich Public Schools, after graduating from Harvard Graduate School of Education. A fellow teacher, John Fitzgerald, had attended a summer art course at Immaculate Heart College, L.A., CA, taught by Sister Mary Corita Kent. A highly innovative teaching program, it stressed the re-use of common materials such as photographs, and it revolutionized art instruction. From Fitzgerald I learned about Kent’s collage making. I quickly applied the basic concept to a larger 4 feet by 8 feet format, the size of our dinning room table where I worked. The photomontages dealt with emotional symbol-systems based on the turmoil of the times. For example, on civil rights, see “Martin Luther King’s Cortege” and “The Fire Next Time” (#01-#05).
The early death of our first baby, Gwendolyn Elizabeth, in 1966, focused my art and emotions on the topic of “death.” Four of the photomontages deal explicitly with her death: “Infant Hearth Disease,” “Gwendolyn, God Glorifier,” “The Tiger in the End Eats All,” and “Though I Walk Through the Valley…”(#06-#09).
After the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens my art focus was on exploding volcanoes (#17) and caldera (#18) as symbols for creativity, death, and environmental change.
The exciting era of space exploration putting men on the Moon and the tragic death of astronauts both fascinated and chilled me. Photomontages #10, #11, #19, #39, #40, and #41 deal with these topics. Our 1960-70’s worries about the atomic bomb and a possible WWIII inspired photomontages #13, #14, and #15.
“The Cycle of Life and Death” (#19-#20) and “The Great Chain of Being” (#21-#22) are two of my finest photomontages. Their beauty, complex symbolism and technical perfection are as vibrant today as when I first produced them. Moreover, their symbolism is universal and not tied to time-related historical events such as the Vietnam War. Thus they can be appreciated by viewers from around the world years after I created them.
Among photomontages created for specific purposes are “Claremont School of Theology History,” done while I was an Artist-in-Residence (#29). Dr. Ann Orlov commissioned #30 for a 50th wedding anniversary present for her parents.
The 12 illustrations for Cosmology of Freedom, (Yale U. Press, 1st edition,) Robert’s 1974 masterful study of human free will were never published. Each illustration depicts an aspect of human choice or lack thereof (#42 through #53).