Rider Art Gallery founder and longtime professor exhibits 32 watercolors
After teaching art for the past 38 years at Rider University and curating most of the artwork around campus, Professor of Fine Arts Harry I. Naar — who is retiring at the end of this fall semester — will soon leave his final mark on the University. An exhibit of his work, “Watercolors — Observed and Imagined,” will be displayed in the Rider University Art Gallery from Oct. 31 to Nov. 30.
An opening reception for Naar, who is also the founder and director of the Art Gallery, will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 31, from 5 to 7 p.m., and he will discuss his work in an artist’s talk with artist Mel Leipzig and New Jersey Star-Ledger critic Dan Bischoff on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.
The exhibit features 32 of Naar’s watercolors, the first time at Rider he’s focused exclusively on that medium. The works presented will be landscapes and still-life, both from reality and imagination.
“What that really means to me is that a lot of the images come from direct observation and from my imagination,” Naar says. “Even though people might classify my work as realistic, there’s also a certain amount of invention and creativity that relates to my own imagination in terms of how I view the landscape or the still life.”
Describing himself as a representational painter, Naar hopes to create images that reveal something to viewers they may not have originally thought about or recognized in the scene, allowing them to see the image in a new way.
“People look at landscapes and still life and might see them as ordinary images, but what I’m trying to do is take the ordinary and create an image that will add something new about something common for viewers,” Naar says.
Knowing that this will be his final exhibit in the Rider Art Gallery leaves him with a bittersweet feeling — happiness mixed with some anxiety that the community will see his work and sadness that his time at Rider is nearly over.
Naar established the Art Gallery in the mid-1980s after noticing the formerly empty space on the top floor of the Bart Luedeke Center. He approached the late Dominick Iorio, dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who agreed that the space would be an ideal location for an art gallery and appointed him as director.
In order to begin the exhibitions, Naar began asking his artist friends if they would be willing to present their work in the gallery. Although some were reluctant at first, interest in exhibiting in Rider’s gallery began to snowball because of the way Naar was able to organize and display the work.
Since Naar began the curating, there have been hundreds of artists’ exhibits featured. The Art Gallery exhibits have also expanded over the years to include related events, such as artists’ talks, in which Naar discusses the exhibit with the artists in a recorded interview.
Throughout the years, Naar has been able to present an eclectic array of thematic exhibitions, featuring well-known and up-and-coming artists. Rider was one of the first galleries in this area to present an exhibition of Cuban artists.
“We wound up becoming, I think, one of the only schools that does catalogs with interviews,” he says. “These catalogs have become historical documentations.”
His passion for the arts developed from his high school art teacher, who instilled in him the importance of creating and inspired him to go to Philadelphia College of Art (now known as the University of the Arts).
In college, Naar says he was first intimidated because many of his classmates had parents who were professional artists, unlike his own. He struggled because of a lack of prior training, yet he says he realized he could use that to his benefit by not bringing any preconceived ideas to his work.
After receiving his master’s in fine arts at the Indiana University Bloomington and teaching at other schools, he found his way to Rider, attracted to its prime location near New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Throughout his years at Rider, he has always applauded his students. “It always fascinates me when I interact with students and present them with a problem and see how they solve it,” Naar says.
Although he is going to miss that student interaction and impact, the main reason he is retiring is because his two sons and their families live on the West Coast, and he wants to be near them.
He advises future Broncs to discover the essence of visual language, whether through learning its history or actually creating, in order to be more open-minded and make self-discoveries about a new passion.
Over the years, Naar says he’s heard the Art Gallery collection referred to as “one of the best small contemporary art collections in the area.” He hopes more artists’ work will be mounted across campus and that the University will recognize and celebrate the value of its art collection.