The artist, Robert P. Eustace was born in New York City on April 24th. 1957. During his initial childhood years, he spent much time exploring the many acres of interconnected 'Park System' wilderness that hugged the northwestern rim of Manhattan Island. He grew up on the nearby grid of streets, comprised of the rows of stone, concrete and brick apartment buildings that constituted the section known as Inwood (Hill Park). He cites his early introduction to art to his interaction and friendship with the expressionist painter, Peter Dean (b.1934-d.1993}, his wife, Lorianne (better known as 'Lori') and their son, Gregory. Eustace lived with his family in Apartment no. 53 - just at the top of the stairs. The Dean's lived down the opposite end of the hallway in Apt. no. 51. The building address of 686 Academy Street, was situated half-way up the hill, between Broadway and Seaman Avenue, where it adjoined Cooper Street. Early in his painting career (and before he established his downtown 'storefront' studio on Elizabeth Street), Peter worked for a number of years in the large, open and airy front room with French doors at its entrance, that faced the street below. Needless to say, the playtimes spent visiting with his best friend Gregory would in turn afford Eustace, a unique and rare opportunity to catch a good glimpse into the wonderful inner workings and beauty of 'the art life'. This initial period of encounter would hold the seedlings that would soon germinate (about a decade later) into the artist's first conscious awakening to the 'Calling of Art'.
Saint Eustace Fine Art
Much of Dean's work can best be described as wildly magical panoramic scenes from the bizarre carnival pageant and fantastic drama of life - 'painting as mystic theatre'.... Compare Ensor's painting, "The Entry of Christ into Brussels" with Dean's paintings of "The Pope-Mobile in Greenwich Village". He worked almost exclusively with oil paint - bold rich colors in volcanic hue, intensely worked into structured, energetically impasto swirls. This is especially evident in his deeply felt and surreal portrayals of the natural landscape, as first found in a series of brilliant Fauve/ Expressionist colored works that began to manifest during the 1970's. Dean sought to document the gorgeous unspoiled natural beauty that forever surrounded his country home in NY State (see the 'Elizaville' series and the Cape Cod based, 'Wianno Landscapes and Flowers' series). Quite fittingly these luminous landscapes were once described as ...."a world that is eternally dawning, with disturbing elements casually suppressed". Other series of work include: 'Horses and Their Riders'; paintings of groups of "Picasso-like" masked figures engaged in bacchanalian revelry. He also worked with political topics such as the War in Vietnam; a series of assassinations of prominent public figures; an ongoing series of 'Lovers' or self-portraits of Peter and his wife Lori in Paradise and the destruction of the Native American culture. This work could be compared to that of Ensor, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Nolde, Beckmann and the early German Expressionists. Later, as Dean's repertoire of painterly techniques expanded, one could also add, Hans Hoffmann, the Fauves and the early style of Francis Bacon.
In the late 1960's, Dean joined several other artists to form the figurative arts group, ‘RHINO HORN’. In the original signed manifesto it states,…”our art is involved with life…with humanity, with emotion… We are not concerned with making pure color or pure form the subject of painting; we are concerned with and express a harsher reality”. Thus, the current trend toward a dry formalism (ie. the aesthetics of Minimalism/ Conceptualism) was rejected and the idea of “a real content” - (gesture, imagery, reference) in works of art upheld. Original members included the painter Robert De Niro (the father of the famous actor), Stuart Diamond, Mary Frank, along with guest exhibitors such as Red Grooms, June Leaf and an affiliation with George Segal with his Hoffmann influenced early figurative painting style. While largely failing to usurp the prevailing art/ culture hegemony of the day, the group ‘RHINO HORN’ was successful in establishing much firmer footing for an art against the Vietnam War. In terms of a personal art world strategy, Dean would always say that he would rather be a "small fish, swimming in a large ocean", than the other way around. He rejected notions of a standardized religion and would say, …”I am of the future and worship an ancient god” (from the 'White Catalogue', 1970) and that “the artist should not be afraid to form his own religion” (or vision - my parenthesis). In 1938, as a young Jewish boy, Dean and his family fled Berlin - just narrowly escaping the Nazi agents who were on watch nearby, by safely boarding a train. Eventually, their travels brought them to their new home in New York City (the painting: “The Expulsion”, 1988, graphically speaks of the horror of this story). Throughout the body of Dean's paintings there is this underlying, recurring theme centered on the precarious nature of life and of narrow real life escapes. Yet, there is expressed the qualities of an angelic protection and a type of divine insulation and grace from looming disaster. Throughout his career his work continued to go largely against the then current grain of: Pop - Op - Minimalism - Conceptualism. Dean simply "stuck to his guns" and kept working - knowing full well that the merry-go-round of stylistic fashion and change, eventually comes back full circle. For Dean, this proved to be the early-mid 1980's with the advent of the Neo-Expressionists and the appearance of the 'East Village Scene' and 'New Image Painting'. Suddenly, the long held and unwavering 'positivist' tenets of modernism (ie. progressive, forward thinking, hopeful, utopian) were now being questioned, reassessed and subsequently, devalued.... while a major shift occurred, away from the dry formal aesthetics of minimalism and color-field painting and towards an explosive 'humanist resurgence' (or return to explicit imagery, a narrative storytelling content, a savage primitivism, the apocalyptic ('the end'), loose paint handling, mysticism, poetry, history, magic, fantasy). The result was the re-forging of a 'new painting'.... one built on the reassessment of all prior and now outmoded modernist assumptions.... a new painting imbued with authenticity of vision and powerful pictorial sensations.
The qualities found in the work of Robert Eustace can be attributed initially to the time spent in traditional Catholic church. There he found wonderful architectural symmetry, art and statuary adorning the stone walls and crevices at every glance, symbols and rituals of meaning, rows of candles providing an unearthly illumination, shadows and fragrances of mystery, along with the slow turning of the seasons and the festive celebrations of light.... Eustace also spent much time in all weathers, roaming and playing in the interconnected parks (or former primeval wilderness) that hug the northwestern rim of Manhattan Island. Today, it is simply known as 'Inwood Hill Park'. To the immediate south lies 'Fort Tryon Park', while to the immediate north 'Isham Park' can be found. Looking out from the edge of the forest and down towards the broad, shimmering Hudson River, one's mind can drift and visualize all sorts of played out scenarios of a time long ago: Of majestic wooden clipper ships exploring the untouched, pristine coast around Manhattan - always a sacred visiting place to the Native Americans who tended to dwell in the outlying lands that surrounded the island. With the steady influx of Dutch, (later English) settlers coupled with the swift transformation toward an organized village life beginning at the southern tip (today: Battery Park), the Native Americans soon learned that they could not compete and would have migrate ever further away from man to ensure the continuity of their now fragile existence. Their organic way of life and micro-economy based on 'the fur trade' would inevitably become outmoded, thus leading to periods of hostility just to survive and ultimately - their eventual westward displacement across an entire continent ! In the 'Inwood Hill Park' wilderness (which marked the northern end of the line for that wilderness), there are the still decipherable brick and stone traces of building foundations that mark the early settler homes that dotted the rolling hills. What life must have been like - to eek out a living on the land, build a life and commune with one's neighbors in those early days.... The nearby Park was the prime location for escape and recreation. Whole days were filled with bicycle riding on endless fascinating trails and pathways. Ball games were played with regularity and in all seasons on vast manicured (at times muddy and snowy) fields that seemed to stretch out forever to the horizon line.... Sometimes there would be panoramic battles with toy 'army soldiers', whole battalions and weaponry would be strategically set up in the camouflage of brush, twigs and fallen leaves. Then there was always this last minute and all important need to haul in open found containers of water from a distant water fountain in order to more authentically stage these battles around our miniature manmade lake.... Every once in a while a fort would be built out of dug up soil and found wood materials, thus creating our own secret woodland place to 'hangout' and share our secrets. Occasional archery sessions were held within an open Park clearing.... Many a hot and scorching Summer's day was spent cooling off at the Fort Tryon Sprinklers. In the center of a vast symmetrical concrete courtyard, a tall metal pipe fountain shot water continuously upward, which then descended in a continual rain shower all around. It was always a group effort to successfully 'stop-up the drain' and try to create a lasting rising pool of water to play in.... In deep winter, exhilarating times spent sleigh riding down a steep and winding concrete path - made slick with compacted snow and ice that would last seemingly for weeks on end. What could only be interpreted as a centuries old favorite Winter ritual was the yearly festival period of gathering and burning tossed out Christmas trees on the city streets ! One found tree after another would be stacked over an iron sewer grating that would provide plenty of underneath air circulation and thus, soon roaring flames. The unforgettable delightful aroma of burning pine scent would fill the air, while the intense heat would chase away the coldest chill and damp ! Of course it was only a matter of time before the swift arrival of the fire department trucks with their blaring sirens and everyone scurrying away in every conceivable direction.... The times and early memories of childhood were flavored by an ever heightening sense of poetic reverie and endless adventure.
Of vital importance were the frequent visits to the nearby Cloisters-- within walking distance from his home. The Cloisters comprised a complete Medieval monastic setting. It was constructed from various salvaged architectural fragments that were shipped here from all across Europe and then reassembled into a cohesive whole. There, Eustace found the square outdoor garden configurations of Medieval herbs, flowers and trees--with a central fountain of tranquil running water. All of which was surrounded by shaded veranda walkways. He found mystical paintings in highly ornate sculptured settings and large polychrome crucifixes and statuary of Jesus, Mary, the saints and the Heavenly host of angels. There were massive doorways with wrought iron tracery in intricate patterns - leading to ancient chapels with austere decorated marble altars and tiny (then extremely costly) stained glass windows. The atmosphere was complete with distant 'piped in' monastic chants and drones. With the 1960's coming to a close, Eustace would move with his family to a new life in central New Jersey. As a parting gesture we gave the Dean's our old washing machine. In return, Peter offered my parents their choice of a painting from a group of three. They selected a relatively small dark painting of 'The Cloisters', bathed in mysterious moonlight. In contemplation, I have long stared at the wall and enjoyed this painting, particularly while reading or listening to music. It shall forever remain my special conduit back to the old world. What more fitting personal document could I have in my possession (?).... one that sums up my entire existence....
Later, Eustace with his family moved to central New Jersey. While lacking in the same day to day audio visual stimulation of his early experience in NYC, life in New Jersey eventually provided the meditative quietude and focus to begin to distill those initial life experiences into works of art. For example: the creation of abstract coded maps that serve to navigate unknown territories of the soul, ancient church floor plan configurations, ornate windows that act as a portal to mystery and grace, and the park as a model of paradise or Garden of Eden. Key to his development as a young artist: While attending a local congregation during his college days, a sensitive grad student reached out and gave him a well worn copy of ‘H.R. Rookmaaker’s book, “Modern Art and the Death of a Culture”, (publ. 1970). Eustace, was later to obtain a copy of Rookmaaker’s book, “Art Needs No Justification”, (publ. 1978). The overall message provided much liberation: That “Art is a God given possibility” - Art is not bound by notions of, functionalism, pragmatism and propaganda, (or ideas of: how can we use it? And: is it practical?). Because of the Incarnation (or the Christ as man dwelling among us) and the Resurrection (or the Christ raised up to set us free from sin and death) the artist of faith is free to create within the large framework of prayer, study, thinking, working - as it relates to life's unfolding. Lastly, the idea of beauty is something that should be honored, upheld and restored to the dignity of its rightful place as it relates to art and the sacred. During much of the modern epoch in art and throughout culture, beauty has been met with mistrust, ugliness and irrationality.
At least for the foreseeable future, Eustace will continue to craft his art and present it to the public from a largely "decentralized position" and with his fairly recent move to the hinterlands of northwestern Pennsylvania – an extremely “rural position”. Yet, thanks to the dawning of the Internet / Networking Age--it is not as terribly crucial as it was in times past to be living and operating right in the cultural thick of things or for example, in NYC, or other highly urban area. Today, one can work "outside the box" and opportunity presents itself everywhere. Special thanks must be given to the vital presence of the arts group concept, beginning with the trailblazing NYAG (New York Arts Group-1980's and now defunct), IAM (International Artists Movement), CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts), SEEDS : Fine Arts Exhibits, of Orange, CA and recently, NPAA (Northwestern Pennsylvania Artists Association), Eire, PA. For the artist of faith--what was once a desolate cultural and spiritual ground has now blossomed through the cultivation and the prayers of many into an oasis of only previously unimagined artistic richness and possibility.
Robert Eustace attended Montclair State College earning his (BA-Fine Arts) and later, the School of Visual Arts, NYC (MFA-Painting). Currently, he is working on his ongoing ‘Aenigmate’ series of wall pieces or ‘Ikonic Mixed-Media Constructions’. Within the past few years, he has begun a new related series of major artworks and drawings, called, ‘Tree of Souls’ (please see my ‘Extended Artists Statement’ for more in depth information on my work). As each new work unfolds and finds its place and personality in the whole, the overall series of work takes on fresh new directions, clarity and meaning. “In like manner, I am ‘under construction’ and am being transformed daily, into what I shall ultimately become, when all is said and done”. During all of 2007 and into 2008, Eustace completed a monumental 56 pp. written manuscript, containing 100 footnotes and over 30 illustrations of art. It’s a called: ‘ART : Childhood – Mentoring – Calling – Vocation’ and serves as the first major installment of his ‘Life Thesis Project’. Future installments of a more philosophical and theoretical nature are forthcoming. The project originated from a few brief answers to an ‘Artists Questionnaire’ on one’s artist mentors. In the case of Eustace, it was the primitive expressionist New York painter, Peter Dean (1934-93), the father of his best friend, Gregory. Beginning with the initial delicate steps of creative immersion… through much research and endless revisions, the project gradually evolved and took form over time. Besides being a homage to a great painter, perhaps even more importantly the manuscript became a reconstruction of a childhood spent during that heightened time of the mid-to-late 1960’s in New York City – a fond remembrance of a beautiful way of life, now long since vanished.
Eustace is also deeply engaged with music, both from the perspectives of listening as well as from writing on it. Of late, he has written a number of brief, in-depth articles that pay homage to musicians, composers, artistic movements, ideas that he loves. His listening and reading enjoyment of music covers everything from late 60’s psychedelia to progressive rock to the practitioners of early to current German electronic ‘space’ and ‘artificial’ music to post ‘Miles’ jazz-fusion and European avant-jazz to the wonderfully diverse array of the early localized forms of chant to Mediaeval jongleurs, troubadours and trouveres to Renaissance madrigals to early 20th century avant-garde to current left field ambient techno and electronica to current ‘off the grid’ rural neo-folk movements… (the influence of which has had a nurturing and sustaining effect on this work).
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