Monday, January 11, 2010

Remembering Bob Bartholic, Tulsa painter and sculptor

September 5, 1925 - December 25, 2009

Bob Bartholic, Tulsa painter and sculptor, passed away Christmas Day at the age of 84 years from injuries suffered in an auto accident that had happened just before Thanksgiving. He was a soft-spoken and self-effacing gentleman. Having taught in the Tulsa Public School System and then serving as graphic artist for the Tulsa City-County Library System, Bartholic retired in 1981 to pursue his art. After twenty-one years, he sought a public venue for the extensive body of work he had created. His solo exhibit “Reflections of the Spirit Within” opened at Living Arts in 2002. Since then, he participated in several member shows at the Tulsa Artists’ Coalition where he twice won awards. In 2006, he had another solo show, “Non-Ordinary Reality,” at the TAC gallery. He was creating art right up to the day of his accident. Bartholic lived and breathed art.

Here is part of his artist statement that reflects both his self-effacing attitude and his approach to painting: “If I become too intentional when painting, I am in trouble. The grand idea never works out. But, when I give up in despair and know that on a conscious level I am a moron, then something deeper takes over I step back and let it paint. Sometimes the moron comes back, and then I just remember that the ‘big I’ can’t really paint that well. I believe that most of life is like that.”

During a television interview soon after Bob Bartholic died, I attempted to sum up his art and life. I had said his art dealt with “the passage of time.” Indeed, it is through his paintings and sculptures that I best knew Bob Bartholic. Below are a few excerpts from my CrossCurrents of Oklahoma review of his Living Arts exhibit “Reflections of the Spirit Within” and the profile I had written for Art Focus Oklahoma in 2006 just prior to his TAC exhibit.

“These colors (of twilight) cast a somber mood over the entire exhibit and signal the exhibit’s theme of transition - a diminishing, a drifting towards death. The prevalence of the human figure in nearly all of these paintings points out that the locus of transition centers on the human condition, yet the exact nature of the transformation varies from work to work and ranges from gentle dissolution through futile resistance to calm acceptance.”

“In Old Jewels, for example, an elderly woman sits in a black chair, her arms rest in her lap. …. Set against this dissolving figure, these jewels appear to be detached from and more solid than the wearer, suggesting they will outlast her. Here, the transition is a quiet turning towards death, a diminishing that is neither melodramatic nor defiant.” And, for Tomorrow, I described it as “a soft-spoken whisper of hope in something beyond the here and now.”

Regarding Bartholic’s Titania and Oberon, I concluded, “Each clings to their sexual/procreative powers in a futile effort to stave off the decline towards old age. They dare not look at each other, for in their lover’s diminishing, they would see their own. Poignantly, each remains oblivious to the dread they have in common. Thus, on a deeper level, Bartholic delves into the fate of love in the face of growing old.”

“Casting an eye back over the entire exhibit, it is clear that Bob Bartholic’s Reflections From a Spirit Within center on both mortality and immortality: counter-balancing a sober acceptance of individual diminishing with a sense of impersonal, cosmic transcendence.”

For a more personal remembrance, I quote from his daughter Christine Rodger’s eulogy: “My father watched each child, grandchild and great grandchild with a look of awe and wonder. He never believed he had children ‘figured out.’ He was always completely open to each fresh, new personality. He was amazed! And it helped each of us understand, as children that we were unique, important and valued. Later, I realized that HE learned from US, that this was true for each and every other human being as well. These truths were his greatest legacy to us, his children.”

The Art Focus profile ended with this statement, “He wants to have his voice heard; he has something worth saying.” Now I may add, “He still has something to say. You can hear his voice through his paintings, which is really what art is all about – speaking across the void.”

By Janice McCormick

See the full Art Focus Oklahoma article starting on page 3 of the November/December 2006 issue.

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