Art & Culture
Read Time: 5 min

breath

Redux Extra April 3, 2021
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Robin Rose is an adroit artist of his generation with a unique art form. His work is the essence of a cosmic curiosity and his profound observation of nature, as he constantly discovers the riches of nature around him. His muse is the
bountiful domain of rocks and pebbles, rivers and springs that inspires him to create. Robin applies a specific technique to each painting, that he prepares with patience as he goes on a journey to an unknown destination. His
untamed approach provides him an unlimited scope of imagination and desire for discovery that not only transcends his art beyond the ordinary, but it also demands a deeper appreciation and interpretation from his audience.

His latest series, Breath, is the product of such curiosity and sensitivity to the world around him. Suddenly, he has a vision, a word such as breath comes to his mind and he prepares for a journey not knowing where it will end up. “I
allow the painting to generate its own being.” And in this case the journey ends up with 19 pieces of enigmatic and inspiring pieces. With each piece the artist takes us through labyrinths of darkness and light, anguish and peace and
from desperation to hope. In a way it translates to all stages of our physical and mental experience of the pandemic. Suddenly, it all comes together, and vision turns to reality of the moment. He realizes he has created 19 pieces which
could be symbolic of Covid19. Although the series could be interpreted differently, but no doubt it portrays our challenging journey through Covid19 with its pain and darkness and yet with a message of hope and optimism.

With so many questions remaining, let us hear from the artist himself:

RE: Please tell us about your background and your personal journey to become an accomplished artist. ROBIN: I am an only child. I have always spent time alone and have been driven by curiosity, to discover the world around me. My art
is driven by this same curiosity. As a child I lived in the organic environment of central Florida. It is a magical place with its rivers, lakes, springs and caves. Nature exists there in an exotic array of plants, animals and
geological forms. My interests have always been to discover mysterious places and things.

RE: What motivated you to become an artist, who and what inspired you. Take us inside your heart and mind, while you are envisioning a new creation.

ROBIN: As a finder and a collector there was always an incredible bounty of historical objects buried in the earth, submerged in lakes and springs, and hidden in the dense Florida foliage. I would scuba dive, walk fields, dig and
investigate caves looking for artifacts from past civilizations. I have always been an archeologist at heart. I see painting as this same kind of excavation, a kind of discovery. I became an artist because I was driven to create a
vision I do not already see in the world around me. When I start to paint, I am setting in motion an excursion to a discovery that reinforces my curiosity. A psychologist might say that the act of painting reinforces my optimism and
gives me hope. I think that is correct. I find endless variation in nature and the natural world. I find that crystals, rocks and plants have forms that liberate my imagination. When I paint I seek to create patterns or forms
that you might imagine seeing through a microscope or a telescope; forms that seem to be familiar from a natural world that you just can’t place. This is the discovery I seek. When my painting becomes an enigma that is the point that I
step away. For me, the painting has become a whole that is greater than its parts. That is the painting I am searching for.

RE: Are there any mentors or influences you like to mention?

ROBIN: My mentors are numerous. I look to artists like Morris Louis, Turner, Rothko, Pollock, Pinkham-Ryder, Arthur Dove, and Giotto. I am also inspired by musicians. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Brian Eno, and Steven Reich are among my favorites. Each of these artists has an eccentric vision and a desire to uniquely express that vision sometimes technically, and sometimes theoretically. I am inspired by contemporary artists like Wolfgang Leib, Peter Doig and Ross Bleckner. Leon Berkowitz and Joseph White were among my early artist friends in Washington, as were Kevin MacDonald and Michael Clark. My continuing inspiration owes much to many.

RE: Tell us about your education and artistic training.

ROBIN: I attended Florida State University and found in the art department a focus for my curiosity. While working on my Masters of Fine Arts at FSU, I was deeply inspired by my graduate school professors. Karl Zerbe is considered the progenitor of contemporary encaustic painting. He introduced me to the medium and challenged me to investigate new techniques within the medium. The English artist Trevor Bell was a master of color. He was instrumental in directing my attention to color field theory and to the minimalist movements occurring in the late 60s. He personally introduced me to Leon Berkowitz, the luminist color field painter. It was because of Leon and Trevor that I came to Washington, DC in 1976.

RE: How about your particular technique, material and the process, why and how do you choose this technique?

ROBIN: This desire to search is the basis of my approach to painting. I prepare for the adventure by designing a specific technique for each painting. Much like an adventurer would prepare for an excursion, by assembling supplies for the journey, be it the mountains, desert or jungle, different supplies are required for different destinations. This relates to my paintings with a different technique, so is required for a different destination or vision.

Encaustic is an ancient technique. It is mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his encyclopedia, ‘Naturalist Historia,” written in the 1st century AD. In it Pliny cites the Greek artist Pausias, as the inventor of encaustic painting during the 4th century BC. The word encaustic means to burn in. The medium must be heated to liquid form before it can be applied to a substrate or armature.
The process of applying the hot wax to the armature is a bit like alchemy. The liquid hardens instantly and transforms into a solid.

The formula for encaustic paint is different in the hands of different artists. I make my paint from scratch. My formula is a mixture of beeswax, carnuba wax and demar varish crystals. To this base I add raw mineral pigment. Unlike other paint mediums, I can manipulate the amount of pigment to achieve a more translucent or more opaque presentation. I can layer many translucent pigments or alternate translucency with opacity. The waxes that compose the encaustic medium have a kind of relationship to the world of nature that is ever present as I work. The beeswax has an aroma of honey. It has a texture that can feel like skin. Encaustic paint dries very quickly. This allows for intense momentum in the act of painting. I can apply layer after layer without pause. But I can also excavate away layers to disclose the complexity of the underlying surface. Encaustic is also very mutable. I can heat it, chill it, and carve into it. It is a perfect medium for invention. I am drawn to encaustic for all of these reasons: its history, its mutability, its momentum, and its elemental nature.

I work flat on a table. I am constantly turning the painting as I work. This helps establish a trance state, or zone. In a perfect world there would be no top or bottom to the painting. I am often absorbed in the journey of discovery. The last thing I do to the painting is to determine a top or bottom in a horizontal or vertical painting. In truth, this is a way to bring the painting
down and apply gravity and aesthetic judgment. This is often the most difficult aspect of creating the painting. It is my final intention.

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