Introductionby Robin Utterback
August 26th, 2023 –
October 14th, 2023

I remember being in the downstairs gallery at the CAMH in the winter of 1993 and seeing an exhibition of paintings by Robin Utterback. It seemed to me that the paintings had crept out from the sidewalks and streets of the neighborhoods surrounding the museum at the time. That show came to mind 30 years later when I was visiting the studio of the painter William Warden, who had just moved to Texas from Philadelphia and had never heard of him or seen his work.

Soon after, I ran into Alison de Lima Greene and she gave me a catalog of a show of Robin’s work at Foltz Fine Art. Thumbing through the catalog, I was struck by how quirky and weird, but also elegant the paintings seemed to me now. There was something that felt very honest about the range of the work; there was a poetic searching in the way one work shifted into another. It was a way of making that is very rare these days.

I wanted the show to travel to the GAR Gallery, but in the end we ended up putting a very different show together. Recruiting William Warden as a Co-curator, we climbed into the storage unit where Robin’s remaining unclaimed works are kept and we selected the works currently on view here. As we were sifting through the paintings, we immersed ourselves in the writings of poets that Robin felt connected with and inspired by, particularly John Ashbery. In 1979, Utterback made a lovely poster for a poetry reading by Ashbery, on the campus of Rice University. In 1987, Ashbery wrote a very positive review for Art in America of Robin’s show in New York at Tibor de Nagy.

It was in Ashbery’s tenth book of poetry, A Wave, that I came upon the poem Introduction.We felt that it captured the spirit of how an Utterback painting is built, and this became the title for the show.

Eric Schnell


To be a writer and write things
You must have experiences you can write about.
Just living won’t do. I have a theory
About masterpieces, how to make them
At very little expense, and they’re every
Bit as good as the others. You can
Use the same materials of the dream, at last.

It’s a kind of game with no losers and only one
Winner-you. First, pain gets
Flashed back through the story and the story
Comes out backwards and woof-side up. This is
No one’s story! At least they think that
For a time and the story is architecture
Now, and then history of a diversified kind.
A vacant episode during which the bricks got
Repointed and browner. And it ends up
Nobody’s, there is nothing for any of us
Except that fretful vacillating around the central
Question that brings us closer,
For better and worse, for all this time.

John Ashbery
from A Wave, 1984.

(1949 - 2007)

Born in the small town of Holton, Kansas, Robin Utterback graduated with a B.A. from Rice University in 1971 and returned as the first student in Rice's Bachelor of Fine Arts program, receiving his B.F.A. in 1974.

Utterback quickly became an essential thread in the fabric of the burgeoning Houston art scene. A year after graduating, Utterback had his first solo exhibition at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in Houston (later Watson/de Nagy & Co.) and would later go on to exhibit in the New York location of the gallery. In 1978, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston made their first acquisition of Utterback’s work, which marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship between the institution and Utterback. The museum collection holds paintings, numerous works on paper and a suite of etchings by Utterback, and would work with him on various projects.

Utterback’s work was included in the seminal 1985 exhibition and publication Fresh Paint, an exhibition of artists deeply connected to Houston that went on to travel to MoMa PS1 and the Oklahoma Art Center, in Oklahoma City. 

Often in dialogue with other artists, poets, writers and art historians, Utterback continued to explore the depths of artistic possibilities in various media. From the early 1990s through the early 2000s, Utterback collaborated with fellow artists to create energetic prints, paintings and textiles. During a 2004 tenure in Strasbourg, Utterback began a new series of works incorporating images of masks in his collages and paintings. 

Following Utterback’s death in 2007, Galveston Arts Center curator Clint Willour celebrated Utterback’s life and work with the acclaimed exhibition, Remembering Robin Utterback. The exhibition catalogue featured essays and fond writings by Alison de Lima Greene, William C. Agee, Emily L. Todd, Alexandra L. Irvine and more. The artist’s trust actively works with curators, gallerists and collectors to continue the exhibition and collection of Utterback’s work, demonstrating his life and career as an essential part of Texas art history. 

Utterback’s work has been exhibited in galleries nationally and in Europe in both solo and group exhibitions. His work is in collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Menil Collection, Houston, McNay Art Museum, as well as numerous other public and private collections in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and elsewhere. Utterback’s work has been covered in prominent publications such as Art in America, ARTnews, Texas Monthly, Artweek, Houston Chronicle and Houston Press.

GAR owes much gratitude to Emily Todd, Sirena LaBurn and Sarah Foltz. This show would not have been possible without their thoughtful care and hard work. The exhibition, Robin Utterback, Everything Shows, at Foltz Fine Art was an essential catalyst and the inspiration for this exhibition.

2521 Ships Mechanic Row | Galveston, TX 77550 | |