Robert Selkowitz

Artist, Writer and Cultural Entrepreneur

The Contemplative Landscape

 

I am a landscape painter. I paint scenes from life that fill me with wonder and convey those scenes with a sense of love and enjoyment. People can share these feelings and be refreshed. That is a sort of alchemy for human beings, to get that feeling from my work through the inert materials of pastel pigments and oils. Over many years I have created vast bodies of work dedicated to some favorite places, and have written and illustrated books with work from three of these prime areas from 2004 through 2012: the Catskill Mountains, the Adirondack Mountains and Cape Breton Island. The books are all laid out as journeys, with master maps of the region and detail maps showing where the works were painted. They are treasure hunts for views.

 

 

Robert Selkowitz in his Ashokan studio

The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration of the whole system.

                          - Frederick Law Olmstead, Landscape Architect and creator of Central Park

Plein air pastel at Ashokan Reservoir

I work from life and paint what I see as a representational landscape painter. My vision unfolds through the perception of my senses, my heart and my soul. I look for beauty and celebrate it. Research demonstrates that in healthcare settings a landscape view, especially with a water feature, is therapeutic, relieving stress and pain. This is the effect Olmstead describes, which is an emotional, human response in our natural world.

 

When I find a scene that arouses my sense of Beauty, I look for a composition that could be translated into a painting. In this I am experiencing what Andrew Jackson Downing, writing in 1850, described in his definition of Beauty as the profound and thrilling satisfaction which we experience in contemplating the external works of God...It is a worship, by the heart, of a higher perfection manifested in material form.

 

Working on that scene with my pigments, trying to reach that vision, is bringing to life something inspired by Beauty.

As an undergraduate at Cornell University, I began to create interdisciplinary projects as an artist and Social Relations major. They usually incorporated history and experience. Catskill Healing Practices, a history of medicine in the Catskill Mountains, which I created in 1980 as a Folklife Research Coordinator at the Erpf Catskill Cultural Center, was a multimedia traveling exhibit with a schedule of video taped workshops and lectures. It won an Award for Excellence from the Regional Conference of Historical Agencies.

During my Master of Fine Arts work at Bard College I began to work on the theme of the veranda as a motif with Wilderstein on the Hudson as an iconic subject. This led to my 65 oils done in the Victorian Historic District at Cape May, New Jersey, featured in Historic Preservation and Victorian Homes magazines, and being a Contributing Editor at Victorian Homes. In 1988 I created a set of Summer Porches serigraphs at Brand X Editions based on Cape May oils.

The 1990s opened with my visit to Chautauqua Institution and subsequent travels to more than 40 communities of aspiration, historic and contemporary Utopian enclaves, and a new portfolio of paintings. My work was published in posters, cards, calendars and prints by major art publishers. My slide lectures and articles evoked the philosophy of Andrew Jackson Downing in explaining the appeal of the veranda as a place of repose.

In 2002 I was asked to work on the commemoration of the Catskill Park Centennial in 2004 and created the Catskill Park Centennial Chautauqua performed at the Mountain Culture Festival in Hunter, New York in the summer of 2004.

In 2016, through my work on establishing the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, I began to develop the Catskill Conquest Rally commemorating the 1903 Automobile Endurance Run. This led to the expansion of my lifelong love of drawing cars and my founding Historic Automobile Endurance Runs, LLC. The 4th annual Catskill Conquest Rally will be held on September 26, 2020. It is a noncompetitive tour open to all vintages and entries have ranged from 1913 to 2018 vehicles.

Robert Selkowitz is the author of three books of paintings with maps showing where the paintings were done: A Painter's Path through the Catskill Mountains (2004), A Painter's Path on Cape Breton Island (2006) and A Painter's Path through the Adirondack Mountains (2012).

His paintings have been published in art posters by Portal Publications, in art notes by H. George Caspari and Bay View Press, and in calendars by Ronnie Sellers Productions.