Architects + Artisans
It’s not enough that he helped found the storied 9:30 Club in Washington D.C.
Or played with his band, the Urban Verbs, at CBGB in New York.
Or signed a record contract with Warner Brothers after Brian Eno saw them play.
No. Robin Rose was destined for the realm of the visual too.
Educated in the arts at Florida State University in the late 1960s, he’s an interpreter of ancient times, and these times too.
“One of my professors there asked me if I was a painter or a musician,” he says.
The fact is, he’s both – and they’re not mutually exclusive.
“Art people like my music, and music people like my art,” he says.
He’s known for an encaustic painting technique, one that dates back to Pliny the Elder. He’ll stretch linen over a honeycombed aluminum panels, then mix resin and beeswax, heat it and paint while it’s hot.
Ethereal, oscillating and other-worldly, his paintings are designed first to help him grow – spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.
“If can achieve that with my work, then there’ll be some residual effect for others, for their own needs,” he says. “I want people to remain curious, to engage with the aesthetic and the beauty.”
His newest burst of creativity consists of 14 works in acrylic, including diptychs and triptychs, will be display at the Howard Scott Gallery in New York, from April 17 – 24.
“They have a language among themselves,” he says. “They’re like Highway 61 Revisited, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Her Satanic Majesty’s Request – they cross-talk.”
And they have a language all their own – some of it modern, some of it Paleolithic, and much of it intuitive
ROBIN ROSE: THE BIG PAYBACK
Images that stay with you like that song from 1979
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Nov. 25, 2011
Circa 1979, Washington's artists and punk rockers were spending a lot of time at each other's places. From the Corcoran to scruffy arts spaces, musicians and artists cohabited and collaborated. Two exhibitions in local galleries evoke that period, one explicitly: It's titled "Hard Art DC 1979," after the year and a Logan Circle live-work space that hosted both art and rock. The other is "The Big Payback," a music-inspired show of abstract paintings by Robin Rose, who at the end of the 1970s was performing with a locally popular band, Urban Verbs.
Rose was a painter even then and has worked for decades in encaustic, which mingles pigment and wax. At one time, his palette was heavily gray, but the colors in "The Big Payback" range from muted to vivid. The Hemphill Fine Arts show is named for the James Brown hit, and the individual paintings for numbers by such musicians as Hank Williams, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and Captain Beefheart. By titling the pieces after a few of the tunes he plays while working, the painter notes, he's paying them back for their motivation. (Brian Eno and Nick Cave are among the younger performers cited; apparently, Rose is unimpressed with the likes of Katy Perry, Lil Wayne and Arcade Fire.)
The artist says he wants his paintings, executed on linen on aluminum panels, to be "familiar" without being literal. Some of them evoke science or industry: "Bat Chain Puller" has a coppery metallic cast, and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" resembles an X-ray. Yet other works hint at water or foliage: The circular patterns and deep azure of "Kind of Blue" imply a pond, while the ripples down the blue center of "Natural Woman" could be waves, branches or leaves. There are also art-historical echoes: The circles and spirals of the preponderantly black "Break the Curse" suggest an Adolph Gottlieb canvas drained of color, while the maze-like patterns of the mostly white "Neither Fish nor Fowl" are vaguely fauvist.
Rose emphasizes that he works on one painting at a time and doesn't move to the next until he's finished. Yet the pictures feed off one another, and look great together. The show includes a few diptychs and triptychs, whose presence seems to acknowledge that contrasts between the individual works contribute to their appeal. " 'Round Midnight" places a mostly brown piece, whose heavily worked surface seems positively archaeological, against a darker one; "A Love Supreme" is a fiery trio whose textures recall tie-dye and thrift-shop dresses. Even the white and gray pictures - some of which are untitled hints at Rose's next direction - offer myriad depths. "Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy" might not reveal much about Eno, whose music provides the title, but its honeycombed forms provide abundant paths for the eye to follow.
Two Shows Reveal Different Sides of Robin Rose
Washington Post April, 2009
Robin Rose is something of a Washington art institution. Known for lushly textured paintings in encaustic, or wax, and with work in the collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and other museums, the 62-year-old can be relied on to emerge from the studio every year or two with another body of work, typically grouped under a cryptic, single-word headline: "Evidence," "Likeness" or, as with his current show at Hemphill Fine Arts, "Endeavor."
The eight works you'll find at Hemphill are classic Rose. Deeply indebted to the Washington Color School for their subtle interplay of hues, the paintings are pure abstractions. They're not pictures of anything. Yet they do, from time to time, call to mind the real world, as with the artist's oh-so-cherry-blossomy "Flora," which resembles nothing so much as a slightly sodden puddle of pink petals. Lovely stuff, if not for every taste. To some, Rose's paintings can look too much like -- I don't know -- decor.
So it would be only natural to assume that "Robin Rose: Cypher," a second show on view at the American University Museum, is more of the same. But you'd be dead wrong. In an abrupt departure from the style on which he has built a successful career, Rose has decided to show, for the first time, a series of found-object sculptures.
It's about time, too.
That's not a complaint. I mean that literally. The subject of the show is time.
There's a bit of the old Robin Rose here and there. A few encaustic paintings (one of which serves as the base for a pair of bronze baby shoes). Some beeswax slathered, like cake frosting, onto the deck of a skateboard, or gooped over the tiny branches of a bonsai tree. Two wax candles in the shape of human heads. But for the most part, this art doesn't have anything to do with wax. The direction he's going in is new.
Over here, there's an Italian Vespa scooter, its "buddy" seat piled high with tarnished heirloom silver. On one wall hangs a bunch of vintage rock-and-roll effects pedals, meant to lend reverb, fuzz or other forms of distortion to electric guitar. Their naughty brand names (Swollen Pickle, Big Muff) are more than a little sophomoric. Over there, a turntable -- a turntable, for God's sake! -- spins eternally, its tone arm bumping soundlessly against the label of the seminal Miles Davis album "Birth of the Cool." A set of bookshelves holds such archaic board games as Concentration and Kreskin's ESP. It's like a museum of mid-20th-century modernist design. Or a yard sale whose proprietor has disappeared into the house for a second to make change.
But it's a lot more than just some old junk.
If there's an overriding flavor to "Cypher" -- a meaning, if you have to get all literal -- it's one of lost youth and innocence. Of growing not just up, but also old.
The title Rose has given to that piece with the Vespa says it all: "Responsibility." It's a young man's ride, carrying, in essence, the old man he will become.
That feeling is everywhere. It's in a piece called "Expiring," which features a houseplant sitting on a digital scale. Next to it is a clipboard logging its weight loss. April 2: 60.0 pounds. April 6: 57.8 pounds. When I saw it, it was down to 54.0. It's disappearing before our very eyes.
It's in the bronze baby shoes, and the pile of old board games, too. And it's in that Miles Davis record. "Cool" might have been born in 1957 (the year the album came out), but in 2009, it just looks...antique. Modernism isn't so modern anymore, and classic rock is just another name for oldies.
Art is a little bit like that, too. How long can someone keep doing the same thing, playing the same record, over and over? Rose seems to know that. "Cypher" is sly proof that you can teach an old dog new -- and, in this case, fascinating -- tricks.