My interest specifically in screens and sliding doors, rather than things in Japanese in general, developed after my first trip to Japan in 1985. I particularly remember viewing an entire wall of sliding doors in one Kyoto temple depicting monumental pine trees. The effect of these gilded doors struck me with an unexpected vigor. Here were ancient decorative panels that remained vital. At four hundred years of age, they lustily reflected light across a huge dark room proclaiming the authority if the shogunate they were painted to extoll. ...
Gold leaf made its way into my paintings, and my subject matter began to shift from figures to flowers and plant forms. In my studio practice I looked more closely at Asian brushwork. I also began experimenting with more exaggerated horizontal formats in my studio work. Japanese influences slumbered and meshed with other sources for a few years. However, as a counterbalance, Matisse, Bonnard, Klimpt, O'Keefe and Demuth remained (and still remain) important sources for me. ...
At first nearly all of my compositions employed chance operation as a compositional structure. To determine the exact placement of the flowers, I made a set of small paper squares, each with an arrow drawn on it. I would select one particular flower and decide how many times it would be repeated on the painting. I placed the screen flat on the studio floor and then I (or more frequently, my son Seppi) would stand on a ladder with eyes closed and drop the squares of paper onto the screen. Wherever the paper markers fell, I painted, using the arrow to indicate the direction the flower would be facing. When this process was completed, I repeated the same procedure for additional flowers until the painting became complete. The results have always surprised me with compositions that are always satisfying and strangely unexpected.
Robert Kushner in Robert Kushner: Opening Doors, DC Moore Gallery exhibition catalogue, pp. 7-10
Since participating in the early years of the Pattern and Decoration Movement in the 1970s, Robert Kushner has continued to address controversial issues involving decoration. Kushner draws from a unique range of influences, including Islamic and European textiles, Henri Matisse, Georgia O'Keefe, Charles Demuth, Pierre Bonnard, Tawaraya Sotatsu, Ito Jakuchu, Qi Baishi, and Wu Changshuo. Kushner's work combines organic representational elements with abstracted geometric forms in a way that is both decorative and modernist. He has said, "I never get tired of pursuing new ideas in the realm of ornamentation. Decoration, an abjectly pejorative dismissal for many, is a very big, somewhat defiant declaration for me. ... The eye can wander, the mind think unencumbered through visual realms that are expansively and emotionally rich. Decoration has always had its own agenda, the sincere and unabashed offering of pleasure and solace."
Kushner's most recent installation, Scriptorium: Devout Exercises of the Heart, is a group of over one thousand drawings of flowers and plants on book pages that date from 1500 to 1920. The pages have been removed from discarded and damaged books of all types from around the world. In 2010, Scriptorium was exhibited in Desire at The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. It then traveled to the Kunsthallen Brandts in Odense, Denmark before returning to the U.S. for the inaugural exhibition at DC Moore Gallery's new Chelsea location in 2011. This summer, it will be exhibited at the La Jolla Athenaeum in California.
Kushner has also created large-scale murals for public and private spaces. In 2004, he installed two monumental mosaic murals, 4 Seasons Seasoned, at the 77th Street and Lexington Avenue subway station. He has also completed commissions at Gramercy Tavern and Maialino restaurants in New York City, Union Square in Tokyo, The Ritz Carlton Highlands in Lake Tahoe, CA, and Federal Reserve System in Washington, DC. Recently, an eighty-foot-long marble mosaic, Welcome, was installed at the new Raleigh Durham International Airport in North Carolina.
Kushner's work has been exhibited extensively in the United States, Europe, and Japan and has been included in the Whitney Biennial three times and twice at the Biennale in Venice. He was the subject of solo exhibitions at both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum. A mid-career retrospective of his work was organized by the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art.
A monograph on Kushner's three decades of artistic work, Gardens of Earthly Delight, was published by Hudson Hills Press in 1997. Wild Gardens, a selection of Kushner's recent paintings with an essay by Michael Duncan, was published by Pomegranate in 2006.
Kushner's works are included in many prominent public collections including The Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; The National Gallery of Art, DC; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, DC; Tate Gallery, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu; The Denver Art Museum; Galleria degli Ufizzi, Florence; J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles; Museum Ludwig, St. Petersburg; and The Philadelphia Museum of Art.