Through an ambiguous mixture of abstract compositions and semi-figurative imagery, the American based painter Emil Robinson (b. 1981) investigates the act of observing and representing the creative roll between external motivation and artistic self-analysis. Robinson’s body of work combines a pure abstract aesthetic with a remarkable sensibility. His current work forcefully flirts with abstract expressionism, while producing paintings that range from exclusively abstract to faintly representational. Lately, his figurative output on canvas presents loosely rendered silhouettes that seem to emerge from their non-pictorial dramatic evocative glaring surroundings. Robinson explores the language of a glaring abstraction executed in a palette of dramatic tones.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
In his painterly fragmented realities, Robinson’s paintbrush uses very bright colours to create evocative compositions made with a degree of effortless confidence. For example, in Ecstatic Space 1 & 2 or even in his untitled works, Robinson deals with some biomorphic shapes successfully engaged with the space of the painting arrangement. The viewer’s ability is challenged by the attempt to get involved with the visual rhythm of the artist’s paintings; the aim is to build an optical story that relies on the ease of the artist’s paintbrushes as long as the eye focuses on the forms, colours and textures. Robinson mentions that “When I am painting my ecstatic space series of abstract landscape/interiors I am trying to catch a wave of improvisational motion and spatial animation. The paintings start as fast drawings in just a couple colours- one colour for the ground and a second to chromatically activate the ground”.
Abstracts may invoke manifold interpretations due to their narrative, however Robinson’s abstract work presents a clearer perspective of this genre. While dismissing an erratic abstract expression, although he employs vague or irregular patterns, his painting technique does not underline features that overlap or create a general sense of incompleteness. Robinson’s abstract work brings to mind phantasmagorical landscapes incorporating incongruous elements and stimulating the realm of the impossible. Robinson also achieves an elegant cohesion of colours that is apparent while observing his work. From another perspective, his abstract depictions also convey a kind of symbolism while thoroughly observing small interior details on his work. Wassily Kandinsky and Georgia O’Keeffe are two different master painters whose spiritual themes, type of colour pallet and the array of hue combination offered me an alternative way to interpret the emerging artist’s abstract work.
Born in Madison (Wisconsin), USA, Robinson lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from the Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and then received his MFA degree from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. His work has featured in many art galleries across the United States in New York, Ohio, New Jersey or Los Angeles, as well as in other major cities internationally, such as Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, London and Athens. Besides his engagement with the contemporary art, Robinson also works as an assistant in the fields of drawing and two-dimensional design at the University of Cincinnati.
In his interview with Art Verge, Emil Robinson shares his approach on his beautiful abstracts and other art issues, while providing some important insights about his daily life. Check it out!
Art Verge: Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Emil Robinson: When I am painting my ecstatic space series of abstract landscape/interiors I am trying to catch a wave of improvisational motion and spatial animation. The paintings start as fast drawings in just a couple colors- one color for the ground and a second to chromatically activate the ground. Many times I will use traditional painting techniques like imprimatura- into which I draw with a sharper brush or wipe with a rag. Sometimes these fast reactive drawing/paintings are finished. However, when I work longer on these paintings, it is about fleshing out and expanding my initial decisions into something both expansive and tightly kinetic.
Because my training is with figure drawing, the body and its shapes become a part of the landscape motif. I mostly work without source material, so the shapes are a memory of something or an approximation of the feeling of a familiar volume. I like that they contain living qualities while still existing as abstract land forms. In the recent figure paintings I am inspired by a collection of feelings about love, religion, sex, gender roles, social energy… I find a pose or interaction that seems to embody some of the mixed feelings I have and then I build the space of the painting to support, undermine, and interact with the figure. I am excited to be making synthetic spaces these days, spaces that are combinations of precedents from art history, spaces I know, and archetypal scenarios. I need ambiguity in the figure paintings, but each decision becomes very specific as I progress.
AV: How would you define your work in few words (ideally in 3 words)?
ER: Bouncy, secretive, loving.
AV: Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
ER: Mostly I look at art from a long time ago. I like work that was made fervently and used the body as a pathway between God(s) and earth.
AV: Looking at your work, there is a mindful consideration about the use of colour. How important is the right palette for each painting? Is it based more on a careful pre-planning or more of an instant decision?
ER: I think about color a lot, and I work hard to build my color excitement. I think it is a psychological state that can be exercised by appreciating color in the world with great intensity:) I don’t think I’m that great with color, but I think colour works the best when there is a wrench in the gears, gut decisions have to be made on the spot and trusted. I want the color to have a smell and a certain kind of light.
AV: Creating a new painting is a solitary process. If this applies to you, when you concentrate on a new artwork does it affect your social life at all?
ER: I think it effects my moods considerably. I am a pretty happy person, but a painting off the rails can make me feel dejected, because I measure so much of myself as an artist.
AV: How do you know when a painting is finished?
ER: It could finish in so many different ways. For me, the painting starts almost like catching a whiff of something good cooking, I try to work by following the smell, until I’m right there in the kitchen and can see whats on the stove! Then I’m done.
AV: What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?
ER: I share a large warehouse studio building with my wife and other artists. It’s a great little community. My own studio is 1000 sq ft. with old wood floors and two big north windows. It’s pretty nice! But can be a little dimly lit depending on the weather.
AV: Which exhibition did you visit last?
ER: Hockney and Michelangelo at the Met.
AV: What do you hope audiences will take from your work?
ER: Joy, reassurance, maybe a shiver or two.
AV: What does your mum think about your art?
ER: She’s a big support!
AV: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
ER: More morning, I get really moody when I am tired.
AV: Is the glass half empty or half full?
ER: Half full, but honestly it depends.
AV: Which are your plans for the near future?
ER: 2018 looks promising. I have a few great shows coming up including a two-person show later in the year, and I have two current shows up right now at Christoffer Egelund in Copenhagen and Agency in Brooklyn. Through the Brooklyn show, I met Curator Eric Sutphin, whose work I have admired for a few years. This next year I’m especially excited about my plans for my paintings themselves. I expect my work to turn another corner this year. I plan on building even more idiosyncratic space into my figure paintings, while also honing into more specific narrative content. Stay tuned:)