Robert Cremean (American, born 1932)

Studio Section 2002-2005: Marsyas/Myself: Marsyas, 2002-2005

Studio Section 2002-2005: Marsyas/Myself: Marsyas, 2002-2005

Wood panels, gesso, modelling paste and graphite 80 in. x 144 in. (203.2 cm x 365.76 cm)

Crocker Art Museum, gift of Robert de la Vergne


  • Among the first American sculptors to embrace the figure after Abstract Expressionism’s dominance of contemporary art in the post-war period, Robert Cremean has long rejected the idea that only pure form is capable of conveying meaning. In this, Cremean was ready to reassert the human figure in his work at the exact moment in the early 1950s that the Bay Area Figuratives made their return to subject matter. For more than fifty years, Cremean has used the body to make work that addresses our fragile humanity. Personal signs and symbols are central to Cremean’s production, as are formal, aesthetic issues, but all are secondary to the human form and the artist’s message. He has worked in marble, bronze, wood, and wood mâché to create figures as beautiful as a Renaissance sculpture of David, or as haunting as any Surrealist use of the mannequin, especially that of Hans Bellmer. Often, his sculptures are autobiographical, such as the Study for Homage to Paul Apostle, above, an actual person with whom Cremean was once acquainted. In the late 1980s and ’90s, Cremean’s figures began to function as part of larger tableau in which the artist addressed, often with the addition of his own handwritten narrations, broad issues of gender, bigotry, sexuality, aging, war, and genocide. Perhaps his most revelatory creation is the installation piece, Studio Section 2002–2005 Marsyas/Myself, two elements of which are illustrated opposite. The culmination of more than three decades of introspection and creation in the studio, this installation combines painted panels with gesso relief sculpture in addition to an array of separate sculptural components completed fully in the round. Marsyas, the subject, is not only the aulos-playing satyr of Greek mythology, but also the personification of the artist. As Marsyas challenged Apollo to a contest, so has the artist throughout his career thrown himself against prevailing artistic fashion.

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