Born in 1930 in Chicago, Robert Natkin grew up in an extended Russian-Jewish immigrant family. In 1948 he began studies at the Art School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was strongly influenced by the Post-Impressionists and Abstract Expressionism, the latter through an article in Life magazine. In 1952 he lived, briefly, in New York where he came under the influence of Willem de Kooning.
In 1953, Natkin returned to Chicago and began exhibiting, occasionally, in shows and exhibitions. He became closely associated with other Chicago artists, such as Stanley Sourelis, Ronald Slowinski, Richard Bogart and Judith Dolnick, among others. In 1957, Natkin married artist Judith Dolnick six weeks after they met. In 1958, Natkin had a one-man show at the Wells Street Gallery and in 1959, he moved to New York where he began exhibiting with the Poindexter Gallery. In 1960 he was included in the “Young America” exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He was appointed as Artist-in-Residence at the Kalamazoo Arts Center in 1964 and in 1969 he participated in a retrospective solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art.
Natkin frequently used cloths and netting as stencils to achieve textures described the critic John Russell of the New York Times in 1978 as having a "worked-over look that suggests that the painting has been traversed over and over by a very small truck that has just had its tires retreaded" His paintings are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Natkin visited England in 1974 and, in the year that followed, he executed a commission for a giant mural at the Baxter Laboratories Corporate Headquarters in Chicago. A retrospective exhibition of Natkin’s work was held at the Moore College of Art Gallery in Philadelphia in 1976. During the 1990s he lectured at the Tate Gallery in London and at Maryland Institute at the College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2000, Natkin produced monotypes at Bradley University. Natkin passed away in Danbury, Connecticut in 2010.