Robert Amft, born 1916, has been painting for more than seventy years and, incredibly, he’s still painting quite vigorously at the age of ninety-four. Amft’s style has been playfully eclectic. His work encompasses so many things that have happened in twentieth-century art, from Neo-Classicism to Pop to Color Field to commercial illustration and cartooning, even Chicago Imagism (he was there at the very beginning, making small silhouetted figures just as Roger Brown was starting out). He loves to mimic things, and has done variations on Leonardo, van Gogh, Duchamp and Seurat. But it’s really the “Peaceable Kingdom” of folk artist Edward Hicks with which Amft has the most in common, reflecting his love of animals and a free, easy and gentle attitude towards life.
Like many outsider artists, Amft is not limited by materials, using oil paint, photography, spray paint, watercolor, wire, wood, tin and various found objects—whatever feels right. But his work also obviously reflects the high level of professional training he received at the Art Institute in the 1930s, and being such a good draftsman and tight designer, his erotic watercolors (not on view here) are among the best among what that marginalized genre has to offer. Amft is a thoroughly secular man of our time, with a life directed more towards personal enjoyment than any kind of divine plan.
This current exhibition at Galleries Maurice Sternberg presents his tamer, more decorative paintings. Most of it was done in the last few years, but there are also a few earlier paintings from the past eight decades, and you can feel the same, playful spirit in everything he touches, especially his rollicking “Opera House” from 1937. None of them have the aesthetic strength to hang on a wall of really great painting, but taken together, they do present the success of American life in the twentieth-century—not the spectacular successes of Andy Warhol or Bill Gates, but rather the grace, humor, courage and sanity required for daily life. (Chris Miller)
Through October 16 at Galleries Maurice Sternberg, 875 North Michigan Avenue, suite 2520.