A retrospective exhibition of the work of constructivist artist Peter Stroud marks the opening of the season at Rider University Art Gallery, on view through Sunday, October 21. The display of six large-scale, geometrically-based paintings graphically documents a career that touched on and was often an integral part of the formative movements that changed the face of art over the past century. On Thursday, September 27, at 7 p.m., Stroud will give a public talk in the gallery.
Stroud, a Princeton-based native of England, is noted as both constructivist and color-field painter. He trained in London following years spent as a prisoner of war during WWII. In the catalogue that accompanies the show, however, Stroud attributes much of his artistic growth to his connections with a community of noted and emerging artists who were exploring new modes of expression and creating a body of work that challenged and altered the direction of art. “I believe my major education developed not so much from my class work and teachers but more from the many visiting artists. Ben Nicholson was specifically helpful because he pointed out the relationship and continuum between abstraction and nature, whose structure and guiding principles were found in the mathematical ideas expressed by the Greeks and Egyptians.”
Although he is, essentially, a non-objective painter, nature continues to play a significant role in Stroud’s work. He says that in his most recent paintings, “reality is creeping back,” citing elements he describes as architectonic — references to windows and buildings. And he also notes that the inclusion of small pieces of colored tape is suggestive of trees and leaves. In addition he says color choice — his use of rich blues, earthy browns, and greens — is related to nature, referring to them as “the elemental colors of the earth.”
The work in this collection also speaks of Stroud’s continuing interest in the aesthetic permutations of the grid. He notes in the catalogue that it may have had its origins in his years as a POW. “Being confined in a POW camp and walking past a series of compounds could have imprinted in my brain images of structural grid-like configurations that in a very unusual way have continued to reappear in my work. The grid became a visual map. In a strange sense my POW experience helped to reestablish and reconform my visual identity.”
Although his style has evolved over the years Stroud has remained loyal to the grid. To that end the grid is frequently modified, segmented, and tilted, building subtle imbalances that generate powerful graphic energy fields. For a time, three dimensions also figured importantly when he used his canvas as a platform for shallow relief — modified grids created by judiciously placed wooden bars and squares. He refers to this work as “virtual sculpture,” pointing out that, “like sculpture, the image is altered as the viewer changes position and by changing light sources.”
In his recent work Stroud continues to extend the possibilities of the grid. Devices include interrupted lines, a lighter palette, more dramatic angularity, and less formal pattern. “I wanted to get away from squares” he says, explaining that the altered geometry has its origins in mosaics. Even so, hard geometry is effectively used to play with balance, seemingly regular images are altered by subtly placed angles to break the static layout and generate a sense of movement.
When he is not making art, Stroud is helping future artists master their craft. He was chair of the art departments at Bennington College in Vermont and Douglass College at Rutgers University as well as chairperson of the Visual Studies Department at Maidstone College of Art in Kent. He also served as director of the graduate program in the visual arts department at Rutgers and professor of art at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers.
Over the years Stroud’s work has been included in major group and one-person international exhibitions; displays that often redefined what art is all about. His paintings have been seen at such distinguished venues as the Guggenheim Museum in New York City; the Institute of Contemporary Art in London; Galerie Muller, Stuttgart; Galerie Creuze in Paris; and the Kunsthalle in Basel, Switzerland. In 1965 Stroud’s work was included with that of such art world superstars as Josef Albers and Victor Vasarely in “The Responsive Eye,” a groundbreaking exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which introduced Op Art to the public. Stroud says of that exhibit: “This show sparked a lot of controversy because it moved abstraction away from the gestural image towards an art of opticality. It changed the existing abstract expressionist status quo.”
“Peter Stroud: Paintings, 1970 to 2007,” through Sunday October 21, Rider University Art Gallery, Lawrenceville. The artist will give a gallery talk on Thursday, September 27, at 7 p.m. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. 609-895-5588.