Robert Preusser

American, 1919-1992  Biography

During a period when Texas art was dominated by regionalist styles, Robert Preusser, alongside Seymour Fogel and Ben Culwell, was one of the earliest nonobjective artists in Texas, and was a pioneer of abstraction.

Preusser was an innovator throughout his teaching and painting career. The work from his teenage years is especially avant-garde. The images are surreal, mystical, energetic, fantastically expressive and uninhibited. Form, color, and composition are imbued with a sophistication that belies his years. Looking carefully at the almost infinite detail in some of his oil paintings, one begins to see paintings within paintings, and worlds within the paintings as well.

Robert Preusser, an abstract expressionist painter who preferred mixed media, was born in Houston, Texas. He began art lessons at the age of eleven, studying under Ola McNeill Davidson. In his early teens, he began exhibiting nationally and internationally. Preusser later studied with Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Robert Wolff at the Institute of Design in Chicago in the early 1940s. He also studied at the Newcomb School of Art in New Orleans and at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. 

During World War II, Robert Preusser served from 1942 to 1945 in the US Army's 84th Engineer Camouflage Battalion in North Africa, Germany, Italy and France. He served as a camouflage expert, specializing in enemy aerial reconnaissance deception by replicating towns, bridges and other landmarks to put the enemy geographically off course.

After the war, he became an art educator. Returning to Houston in 1947, Preusser joined the faculty of the Museum of Fine Arts School of Art. In 1951, Preusser joined the Art Department of the University of Houston. Preusser then moved to Cambridge, MA in 1954 to teach at MIT, and remained there for 31 years. From 1974 until his retirement in 1985, Preusser was Director of Education at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

While in Houston, Preusser was a cofounder and director of the Contemporary Arts Association, a forerunner for the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum, from 1948 to 1951. He was also the USA co-editor of LEONARDO, an international journal of contemporary artists, from 1974 to 1989.

Critics have said that Preusser's work, which has won numerous awards, shows the influence of European abstract artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, as well as American modernists Arthur Dove and John Marin.

In 1952, LIFE Magazine invited Edith Halpert, owner and director of New York’s prestigious Downtown Gallery, to identify ten “Stars of Tomorrow” in the art world. Ms. Halpert selected Robert Preusser, along with Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawrence, and Charles Sheeler, among others.

Honorable Mention for Purchase Prize, 14th Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, 1938
Honorable Mention for Purchase Prize, 15th Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, 1939
Purchase Prize, 16th Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, 1940
San Antonio Art League Prize, 2nd Texas-Oklahoma General Exhibition, 1941
State Fair of Texas Prize, 8th Texas General Exhibition, 1946
Honorable Mention for Purchase Prize, 22nd Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, 1947
San Antonio Art League Purchase Prize, 10th Texas General Exhibition, 1948
Brown & Root Prize, 24th Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, 1949
Honorable Mention, Texas Fine Arts Association General Exhibition, 1949
Oppenheimer Prize, 1st Annual Texas Watercolor Exhibition, 1950
Hughes Tool Prize, 26th Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, 1951
Honorable Mention, 57th Annual Western Artists Exhibition, 1951
First Prize, Houston Art League Prize, 1951
Hughes Tool Prize, 27th Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, 1952
Contemporary Arts Museum Purchase Prize, 28th Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, 1952
Nominated for "Promising New Talent in U.S.A." in Art in America Review, 1956

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, 1948
Port Arthur Art Association, Port Arthur, TX, 1948
Western Arts Convention, Dallas, TX, 1949
Stephen F. Austin State College, Nacogdoches, 1952
Rudi's Restaurant, Houston, TX, 1954
Boris Mirski Gallery, Boston, MA, 1955, 1960
M.I.T. Faculty Club, Cambridge, MA, 1957, 1961, 1964
Houston Artists Gallery, Houston, TX, 1960
The Randolph Gallery, Houston, TX, 1965
Joan Peterson Gallery, Boston, MA, 1966
O'Kane Gallery, Downtown College of the University of Houston, 1974
Salon de Artistes, Meridian Hotel, Boston, 1982
Transco Gallery, Houston, TX, 1990
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 1991

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio
Texas Christian University, Fort Worth
Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Represented in over 100 private collections