Robert Steven Koffler went to Syracuse University on a scholarship (9/56-12/59) earning a BFA with honors in Painting, minoring in Printmaking and Sculpture. His intention was to study with Ivan Mestrovic, of Rodin’s studio. Having been equally a painter and sculptor in terms of skills, Koffler chose the more active Painting program when Mastrovic left for Notre Dame. In the Summer of 1959 Koffler worked with Reed Kay from Boston University while at Skowhegan (summer) School. Skowhegan gave the young artist a chance to meet such people as Kenneth Callahan and Ben Shahn. He received a scholarship to study traditional underpainting with Kay.. after gaining what he could from Kay, Koffler rented a studio an began a teaching career as a substitute in the Philadelphia Public Schools for the period from 1960-63 after spending some months in Taxco, Mexico. He shared a printmaking studio with Carlos Pape his friend and landlord. From this time he created a small group of etchings and paintings: The Mexican Series. Koffler signed up for an MFA (1962), in Painting at the University of Pennsylvania for the fall of 1961, spending that summer touring Europe, Crete and Greece.
This gave him the opportunity to actually study the great Spanish and Italian Renaissance and Baroque painters gaining from the underpainting studies and impacting on the work which was to be started at Penn and for the years beyond. Before mentioning specific work initiated at Penn, Koffler tribute to some of the people He worked with in that special time at the Graduate School of Art and Architecture. He worked iwith Angelo Savelli in studio and the lectures and seminars of men like Louis Kahn, Romolo Guirgolo, Robert Venturi as well as Dore Ashton, Kathrine Kuh, David Smith and Barnett Newman. Years later he told a slightly younger architect of the time at Penn. Oh, the architect said, You were there in the “golden years.” The dominant themes works of the period included “Seated and Special Figures,” “The Flight of Icarus,” (five mural panels plus separate paintings and studies), and the five by eight foot “St. Paul with an Vision of St. Peter,” (after Zurbaran), in two locking panels. The last series of this period, living in an unheated barn in the Olney section of Philadelphia was “The Death of Manolete.”
The strongest of the works coming out of nearly two years of living in Venice and Rome (1963-64), are drawings of “Venetian Angels” and a large group of works on paper interpreting Andrea Mantegna’s “Corpo Christo.” Koffler had come initially to Venice with a teaching grant from the Cini Foundation. He married Anny Peiffer in Venice and their first child, Nathaniel, was born in Rome in 1964. A parenthetic note, in Rome the Kofflers were to make enduring friendships with such other young expatriots as the writer William Melvin Kelley and his wife, painter Karen-Aiki, artist Wolf Kahn, Emily Mason and the poet Charles Wright. He was affiliated with “Galleria 88″ during the period.
Returning to Philadelphia Koffler began a group of archetypes; semi-abstract figures, mostly female. The figures within and interacting with the space containing them on the page. Some of this imagery translated into small bronzes, mostly as deep, wall relief’s. In pastels, and “white paintings” moving from Japanese print-influenced figures and finally figures and American flags, protesting the Vietnam War.
In the early 1970′s he continued pastels on such themes as the War, the Vermeer Series (two years), and images from the American Civil War. He also began rehabbing houses as a second job beyond teaching at Moore College of Art (1965-78), and began painting architectonic abstractions. They were first formatted on a horizontal-vertical form, later turned on axis into a triangular design within a rectangle. Eventually the collage quality implying doors and windows became simply triangles in space. By the late 1970′s the triangle was blurring out into the “Thales Series” breaking down form into the Greek Philosopher’s four categories: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Koffler affiliated with Allan Stone Gallery in New York and Hall Barnett in New Orleans. These abstract oils, hundreds of them on oil and linen evolved into memory landscapes into the mid 1990′s and the purchase and rebuilding of an ancient log cabin on a stream and waterfall in the Central Berkshires. The last decade’s landscapes come out of the studio which he constructed out of a shed overlooking the stream. The landscapes are shown at Sidetracks Gallery in New Hope, PA.