Robert LaHotan

 

Born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Robert L. LaHotan grew up in Western Massachusetts. He received both his B.A. and M.F.A degrees from Columbia University, where he studied with Stephen Greene, John Heliker, and Meyer Schapiro. He was  a two-time winner of the Emily Lowe Award in 1952 and 1957, and a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Frieburg, Germany from 1953-1955, 

 

The selection of works in this exhibition, drawn from his early years, reflect the vitality and love of color which would mark his long career in New York, as well as the early impact of the landscape of Maine on this young abstract artist. He spent over half a century producing works on canvas known for their lyrical color and structural compositions. His paintings are held in many private and public collections across the United States.

 

Writing in 1961 about this early work, Art News critic Valerie Peterson said: 

 

He develops a continuous idea in all his canvases––that of disassociating a small space from the organic activity around it, giving to this space a distinct and regular shape, usually rectangular, and using this uninvolved territory as an escape clause from the tensions contained within the painting area, or as an anchor upon which the tensions can depend for support. LaHotan is concerned with the “things” he is describing and with intellectual structuring which interprets these “things” with clarity and purpose.

 

More than twenty years later, though the appearance of the work had changed, poet Rosanna Warren would echo

 

The lessons of LaHotan’s familiar ghost, Bonnard, have been deeply absorbed: in these Maine wood scenes and still lifes, mass and space, the material and the immaterial, fluctuate and interpenetrate in a vibrating game of give and take.

 

In addition to his long and productive painting career, LaHotan was an influential supporter of aspiring artists, teaching painting and art history at the Dalton School, an independent school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for 39 years. He was honored as a Dalton Fellow, and as a member of the National Academy of Design. 

 

In the 1950s, artists John Heliker and Robert LaHotan purchased a 19th-century ship-captain’s house on Great Cranberry Island, Maine, off Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. The 19th-century boatsheds and outbuildings were converted over the years to studios, and both artists spent many of the most productive years of their lives regularly painting in Cranberry in the summers and teaching and painting in New York during the winters. Robert LaHotan––Bob as he was known to friends––spent the last two years of his life realizing his vision of turning the property into a residency program for artists on Cranberry. In 2003, the buildings passed to the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, www.heliker-lahotan.org , which continues to provide residency fellowships for contemporary artists of established ability. Sales from this exhibition support that goal.

 

Patricia Bailey

President, The Heliker-LaHotan Foundation

 

 

Art New  England  July/August  2011

 

Robert LaHotan (1927 - 2002) was a classic seasonal Maine painter: summers on Great Cranberry Island down east and winters in New York City, where he taught for many years at the Dalton School in Manhattan. Like fellow New Yorkers Dorothy Eisner, John Heliker, William Kienbusch, and Gretna Campbell, LaHotan found just about complete artistic sustenance on the island; Great Cranberry was his number-one muse from the 1950s on.

Like his peers, too, LaHotan rarely showed in Maine. Represented by Kraushaar Galleries for most of his painting life, he would ship his work back to the city in late summer or early fall. This makes Robert LaHotan: The Early Years a special treat-a substantial sampling of his Maine oils come home (more or less) to roost.

The paintings in the show date from the 1950s and 1960s. They range in aesthetic from modernist-representational-Western Way (1956), which was shown at the Twenty-fifth Corcoran Biennial in 1957; to wholly abstract-Mostly Green (1960), which edges into color field. 

LaHotan was for the most part an expressionist responding to island motifs-rosebushes, dappled woods, rocks, and coast-with an abstraction flair, his brushwork uniformly activated. Several paintings have the quality of sketches, as if the artist were testing out color and compositional combinations.

One can see kinship with the works of other members of what might be called the Great Cranberry School. Potted Plant by Window (1960) brings to mind Eisner's island interiors from the 1970-s, while the dynamic Blue Sea (1959) has a Kienbusch feel to it.  Standouts include Landscape Maine (1957), Landscape with Trees and Rocks (1963), Back Shore (1950), and Red Quarry (1959), the last-named a highly expressive addition to this subject that has appealed to many artists.

LaHotan's legacy is carried on in his art, but also in the foundation he and Heliker established that supports artist residencies at their home on Great Cranberry Island. This exhibition underscores the special energy of the place and the painter.

 

Carl Little