MANKATO — Robert Finkler has a secret.
Though the esteemed former art instructor at Minnesota State University taught for some 40 years, has exhibited his collection of abstract paintings across the state and country, and is a learned artistic mind — he admitted he still doesn’t have all the answers.
During a walk-through of the dozen or so works he currently has on display at the Carnegie Art Center in Mankato now through March 23, the thoughtful conversationalist spoke frankly about the artistic angst he still feels — even after more than five decades of painting.
“As an artist, you have to be comfortable working in that area where you don’t have the answer,” he said. “Art is hard work. But that’s when art is the best.”
Praised for their complex interplay of shape, line and color, Finkler’s paintings at once defy and invite interpretation. Though Finkler himself characterizes his recent work as being more colorful and unified than earlier paintings, all feature the same layered composition and emphasis on form and process over literal content.
During his formative artistic years, Finkler said he was unmoved by figurative work. Instead, he was drawn to the world of abstraction where form and line serve as the transformative elements.
Since then, he has created a body of work that references itself through repeated patterns and shapes.
For instance, the scroll-like ornamentation at the top of Finkler’s 2008 painting “The Prize” was inspired by the ornate capitals found on Corinthian columns from ancient Greece, and the form recurs regularly in his work. Other recurring shapes include the outline of a toy top and the silhouettes of graceful, leaping dancers.
Finkler said he deliberately repeats and layers elements in an effort to discourage his art from being consumed quickly and mentally discarded.
“I don’t want them to get used up and then have people be stuck with the thing,” Finkler said. “I don’t want my work to be that way.”