By Nicoletta Feldman
Friends and family of professor of fine arts Harry I. Naar, along with members of the Rider community, filled the Rider art gallery on Oct. 31 to hear Naar discuss his works that were displayed in the gallery.
As Naar began, Dan Bischoff, art critic for The Star-Ledger, and Mel Leipzig, fellow artist and longtime friend of Naar’s, sat on either side of him. On the surrounding walls of the gallery hung various watercolors painted by Naar, which made up a collection entitled “Watercolors: Observed and Imagined.”
The 32 pieces included in the exhibit were Naar’s last works displayed in the art gallery before his career comes to a close at the end of this semester.
After working at Rider for nearly 40 years, Naar will be retiring.
The discussion, which served as a celebration not only of Naar’s watercolors but his career as a whole, was facilitated by Bischoff and Leipzig as they asked Naar questions and added personal and professional insight of their own.
“I thought it would be really appropriate to have Mel here, who had the last show and who also knows me fairly well, and to have my writer friend here, Dan, too, who wrote the wonderful essay about my work,” Naar said, citing his relationships with both.
Bischoff discussed Naar’s educational background, including his graduate schooling at the University of Indiana, and how his choice to attend that school speaks to Naar’s style of representational art.
“Harry had the choice of going to Yale to study art, but he chose to go to Bloomington, Indiana to the University of Indiana because, at that time, Bloomington was the home of representational painting in the United States,” Bischoff said. “Harry wanted to do the thing that no one else wanted to do, which was representational art. That’s the reason he went there.”
Representational art — as defined by the website of the De Buck Gallery, an art gallery with locations in New York, Antwerp, Belgium and Saint Paul de Vence, France — “is a term that generally refers to a painting or sculpture that is clearly recognizable for what it claims to be.”
Naar’s paintings are examples of just that.
Landscapes, depictions of Long Beach Island, the location of Naar’s former summer home and still-life scenes of tables and windows are some of the images on display for spectators. When looking at these works, there is no need for viewers to second guess what they are looking at.
“In my work, I’m not trying to deny that I’m doing anything else but making a painting,” Naar said.
There is, however, an aspect of multidimensionality in Naar’s representational art that makes it more complex than it may initially appear.
“I’m using reality, but I’m using reality in such a way that I don’t want you to get the sense that I’m copying reality,” he said. “I want to create a situation where you’re looking at something that’s familiar, but yet, at the same time, hopefully discovering something more about that familiar scene. And if I’m able to do that, I’m hoping that I’m able to open up your eye, your brain, to think about things that are familiar in a new and different way.”
Although there was no shortage of praise for his accomplishments and artistic ability — with Leipzig adding that Naar’s work “has a richness that literally grows on you” — praise for Naar as a person was perhaps even more abundant.
The night began with the reading of a letter written by Naar’s oldest son Devin who resides in Seattle and could not be in attendance.
By the end of the letter, Naar was in tears.
To Leipzig, the letter was more than a sentiment from father to son, but rather a reflection of Naar’s character.
“The fact that he got a letter like that from his son says something about an artist,” Leipzig said. “When you have children, a lot of artists find them to be an accessory. I’ve heard this from so many artists. This is a man who went and picked up his children, stopped and fed his children, I mean, he’s incredible for what he has done as a human being.”
Leipzig, who has painted Naar’s family and attended the bar mitzvahs of both of his sons, also used their long-standing friendship as a testimony to the kind of person that Naar is, describing him most simply as “a good friend.”
“He’s a first-rate artist and a first-rate individual,” Leipzig said. “You couldn’t say that about Picasso, you know.”
Naar’s exhibit will be on display in the Rider art gallery, located on the second floor of the Bart Luedeke Center, until Nov. 30.
Published in the 11/14/18 edition.