Robert Lyall Flock (1928-2017), Devil's Hole, 1985; oil stick, graphite and pastel on paper, 50 x 38 1/4 inches (frame: 52 3/8 x 40 3/4 inches); First Purchase Award, Niagara Falls: New Impressions, 1985

Robert Lyall Flock (1928-2017), Devil's Hole, 1985; oil stick, graphite and pastel on paper, 50 x 38 1/4 inches (frame: 52 3/8 x 40 3/4 inches); First Purchase Award, Niagara Falls: New Impressions, 1985

Remembering Robert Lyall Flock (1928-2017) by Nancy Weekly

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bob Flock was such a bundle of energy, bubbling over with smiles and chatter, that it’s hard to imagine him gone. Few among us could match his enthusiasm. Foremost, he was one of the most vigorous artists in our region. He transferred his physical dynamism onto canvas and paper in artworks that at times reflected his inner emotions, and at other times, the vigor of landscapes in Western New York and Ontario, Canada. His depiction of Niagara Falls is almost synesthetic. He made the hypnotizing power of water crashing into boulders at the base of the iconic waterfalls more intense by resisting the stereotypical use of rainbows, as centuries of artists before him have painted. Instead, Flock’s light refracts into dissonant forms, thick wedges, spiraling lines and stippled notes as if musical notations were torn from a behemoth’s score to play in another dimension. Rather than showing us what we would expect to see, he makes us first hear the awesome, thunderous roar to ponder how Devil’s Hole may have gotten its name.

Camaraderie comes to mind, especially in connection with Bob’s sketching companions Robert Baeumler, James Vullo, and Roland Wise. Their stylistically distinctive interpretations of the Niagara Glen, one of their favorite sites, were exhibited at the (then) Burchfield Center in 1982. That’s probably when I first got to know Bob. All of them were teachers as well as practicing artists—and each, to a greater or lesser extent, taught at Buffalo State College. How interesting to note that the quiet, brooding personalities balanced the more ebullient ones. They respected each other’s work; indeed, they may very well have drawn assurance for pursuing their own directions by contrasting with their colleagues. By all accounts, Flock’s students also appreciated his guidance and encouragement.

Rather than use “Untitled,” Bob often used “Work” as the title for his ongoing series of large-scale paintings. The Burchfield Penney acquired its first in 1991, when Charles Rand Penney donated his collection of Western New York Art. Prior to that, the museum acquired Devil’s Hole, 1985, as the First Prize Purchase Award from the juried exhibition, Niagara Falls: New Impressions, held in 1985. The artist gifted two works after that: Rehearsal for Harriet, November 1988 (a memorial homage to his friend Harriet Greif, who was a beautiful dancer and painter of exquisite non-objective landscapes), and Port Dalhousie, 2003 (an abstract pastel landscape to represent his more recent achievements). In a remarkable gesture of generosity, Bob invited several of us at the Burchfield Penney to visit his studio in 2011 to pick a wide selection of works to represent his career more fully. He was moving out of his home and studio, and valued the museum’s mission to collect, exhibit, and interpret the art of our region. His magnificent gift included 118 works in mixed media, as well as his sketchbooks from Korea, and archival materials, as unique as cow markers that he used in drawing rural landscapes. Our meetings at that time were bittersweet, realizing that our occasional visits to his studio were coming to an end. Nevertheless, the Burchfield Penney Art Center is honored to be the institution of record for Robert Lyall Flock. While his artwork has been included in various thematically based exhibitions, an upcoming exhibition of selections from his 2011 gift is planned for this spring. I am greatly saddened that he won’t be able to visit the exhibition, but his presence will certainly be palpable.

Read what Nancy Weekly, Burchfield Scholar, Head of Collections & Charles Cary Rumsey Curator, Burchfield Penney Art Center and Burchfield Penney Instructor of Museum Studies, SUNY Buffalo State