An Interview with Fred Staloff by Louis Zona
What inspired you to become a professional artist?
Discharged after World War II, I was unable to reintegrate myself in previous activities. The War, human behavior and the moral implication of Science's participation were very troubling to me since I had previously intended to follow a career in Science. I therefore turned to Art as an outlet for my creative impulses.
Who are the artists and teachers who have made a major impact upon your career?
As a student, I had two teachers who influenced my development: Hans Weingaertner and Reuben Nakian. The former was a realist with a strong formal tradition and yet within the limitations was able to create his poetry. The latter, Reuben Nakian, had respect for the great Art of the past and its creators, including the ancient Greeks, Poussin, Watteau, Rodin and Picasso among others. While it was apparent that Nakian had language limitations (he stuttered), he demonstrated great sensitivity to the poetry emanating from the artists he loved. Love is not too strong a sentiment for it was his love of art that inspired me.
The list of artists whom I have admired among the many would include: the School of Florence including Titian and Veronese, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Cézanne and Picasso.
Each artist of originality has something distinctive to offer; the list is long, the menu is long with many courses!
I have to dwell on Cézanne. I consider him above all a poet. From him, I learned the value of a neutral color in a painting. It allows the viewer to evaluate the relationships of all the other colors. In addition, by organizing color and form, Cézanne was able to occupy a middle ground between Classicism and Romanticism which I strive to attain.
Your professional artistic journey led to France. What was it about French experience that was particularly meaningful to you?
At the time, France offered me the experience of its particular culture which included the visual sensitivities of its citizens, the variety and inspiration of its landscapes, the beauty and grandeur of its monuments and Museums. Above all, it was in Paris where I met my wife, Janette.
Picasso's career saw a number of different periods from the so-called "Blue Period" through the various phases of Cubism. As we look over your career, we can see distinct stylistic and conceptual changes. Can you describe the major periods in your painting History?
There are four, maybe five conceptual styles of work. Each concept demands a certain change in the language of form, color, line and texture. In some instances, two concepts were carried on through the same time period, satisfying the needs of my personality.
The late 1950s through the mid-1960s, my insight led to a form of Pantheism, changing formal Still Life arrangements into landscapes. Through the same time period, percolating in my brain were the seeds of a different poetry emanating from the visual experience of the large and powerful armoires in some French homes. This resulted in my analysis of the dark rectangle and its psychological impact. A modification of language resulted in paintings that were more formal and abstract. While this style was evolving, concurrently, I created a group of portraits of people who, to my mind, were related to the human condition.
Finally, as my psychological needs required, a style of poetry of escape evolved expressed by large lyrical, more formal landscapes.
You and I have often discussed what appears to be the decline of formalistic painting. Your art has always championed solid composition and all that is visually significant. Discuss how your work maintains a strong visual component as opposed to sociological, political, spiritual, etc. concerns.
Subject matter is very important to me. The subject is often a visual experience but not always. The painting may emerge intuitively from some inner need. Until the present, I have always felt the need to situate my forms in space, sometimes shallow, sometimes deeper. I assiduously avoid the flat rendition of form which leads to decoration or stylization.
So far, I have no need to express myself in sociological or political terms although I do feel that some of my work (1958 to 1964) exhibits a sensitivity to the spiritual. All this may change in the future.
Your artistic contribution now spans over 60 years. You continue to be excited by the smell of oil paint and you paint every day. Where do you see the new paintings going? Are you exploring new ideas or do you find yourself attempting to solve problems that you set for yourself some time ago?
From time to time, as I review older work, I see the necessity to make some revisions.
I find the formal and non-formal language of forms, colors, lines and texture co-existing in the same work. Going forward, I continue to consult with the visual or intuitive subject matters to avoid falling into a routine. I am attracted to larger and larger areas of form and color. In many cases, the small, more abstract paintings were more like studies for larger works. The adventure continues as I analyze my needs and reflect on man's place in the Universe. Back and forth, I voyage from the tragic to the lyrical escape.