We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot
Robert Marsh: Drawings and Paintings, currently on exhibit at the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History, clearly reflects his favorite T.S. Eliot quote. Robert Marsh laughs a lot, smokes more than he should, drinks less coffee than people think, enthusiastically endorses Averett, is devoted to his family and loyal to his friends. On top of it all, he is a very talented artist. As fellow artist and former student Yancey Smith says, “Constantly exploring his craft with sophistication, skill, thoughtful composition and sometimes whimsy, Robert Marsh achieves these with ease, and the resulting richness of his work is stunning.”
After receiving his graduate degree in print-making at the University of Mississippi, Marsh atypically adopted the use of oil sticks to set himself apart from the other artists who were painters. Though he still prefers them, some of his newer works are done with brushes and Createx paint and others in dry pastels. Marsh’s work has changed over the years. Early paintings were “tight,” he says, landscapes of which 40% to 60% were white paper. Now almost every inch is imbued with color. He admires the freely scribbled paintings of Cy Twombly, but Marsh’s style is diametrically opposed to Twombly’s. “I could never paint like that. I’d have to make something out of those lines,” he admits.
The hardest part of creating a painting? “Getting what’s in here,” Marsh says, pointing to his temple, “on paper.” He sees hundreds of paintings a day; they just don’t make it to the canvas. Tree roots seen every day for years heaving from the pavement on Virginia Avenue suddenly make it to his canvas. He draws two cows in a field, adds six, scratches out three, then draws in two more before he’s content with the results.
Marsh’s goal was to have a New York exhibition before he was thirty. He did. He is represented by some of the most prestigious galleries in the East, and it is they who set his prices. His works are included in the collections of Bank of America, Southeastern Center for the Contemporary Art, Wake Forest University, Duke Power, and the United States State Department to name but a few. Oh, and of course the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and Averett University, where he has taught since 1969.
Known for his sardonic wit, which is not always fully appreciated at 8:00 a.m. by the students who take his dawn-breaking class, Marsh introduces reluctant football players and art majors alike to “how the eye sees, what is visually stimulating, the materials and approaches used in art, and the cultural concepts found in the creation and appreciation of works of art.” (AU’s catalog description of Art 103.) He asks questions, gives hints, then supplies the answer in such a way that the student thinks he came up with it himself. “Kids are great,” he says. “They’re all kids to me.” His affection for his students is genuine, as is theirs for him. One student dubbed him “cool, in an old school kind of way,” perhaps an allusion to Marsh’s choice of Rock n’ Roll hits from the 60s and 70s that he plays in his studio classes. In addition, teaching affords him the luxury of saying no to someone who wants to commission a painting to match their sofa. And the early morning classes allow him to paint the rest of the day, then take one club only and walk, not ride, nine holes on the golf course, weather permitting.
It’s been 30 years since he’s staged an exhibition at the DMFAH. Don’t miss this one!
• For more information, go to
www.danvillemuseum.org, call 434.793.5644 or visit the DMFAH
at 975 Main Street.