Your fine art information site since 1995
artists art dealers artline | collect digest publications contact search about archive   close menu

Robin Rose. American Artist, born 1946

Ethereal, oscillating and other-worldly, artist, Robin Rose’s paintings are designed first to help us see what isn’t there. He works in encaustic mingled with pigment and wax using subtle hues to produce his subtle abstractions.

Robin Rose, Artist, Portrait, artline
Robin Rose
Robin Rose, Artist, Portrait, artline
Robin Rose
Robin Rose, Artist, Celestrial, artline
Robin Rose
Celestrial, 2013
encaustic on linen on aluminum
honeycomb panel
30 x 24"
Robin Rose, Artist, Dark Star, artline
Robin Rose
Dark Star, 2010
encaustic on linen on aluminum
30 x 24"
Robin Rose, Artist, Petraglow, artline
Robin Rose
Petraglow, 2013
acrylic emulsion and pigment on
linen on aluminum honeycomb panel
30 x 24"
Robin Rose, Artist, Great Balls of Fire, artline
Robin Rose
Great Balls of Fire, 2010
encaustic on linen on aluminum
30 x 24"

Artist Statement

I am a finder, I could have pursued archeology.

My approach to painting has never varied. I attempt to create what I see that isn't there, but could be. I paint one painting at a time, when it becomes "the painting" not "a painting" I then can start something new. I invent a process for each painting, encaustic has been my medium of choice because of it's mutable nature, lately I have discovered how to use acrylics in a similar way.

My paintings are residuals of an expedition. A quest to uncover a personal artifact.


Robin Rose and the Discourse of Painting

Even if the work comes to him easily—and I'm not saying that it does or does not—there is something concentrated, intense about Robin Rose's paintings. It's as if the surfaces of his works are sites for unusually focused attention and activity. Maybe his works present this way because their subjects are deeply held and Rose has to work extremely hard to express them. Or maybe his subjects are somehow elusive, and Rose has to work so hard to capture them that the surfaces of his canvases are thickened with the dual acts of reclamation and assembly. Or here's a crazy idea: how about when Rose paints he takes his compositional cues not from himself but rather from the paintings; these "speak" to Rose while he is painting so that the paintings become, finally, the sum total of their directions to the artist, who produces good work when he "listens" well to what his paintings are trying to tell him. In this regard, the paintings are created as an act of reciprocity between Rose and his subjects, which, in this context, assert their creational needs to the willing artist, who gains stature as a painter not through dominion over of his subjects, but rather by his ability to subordinate his wants in favor of the artworks' needs. This kind of painting would explain Rose's surfaces, the encaustic methods and the addition of pigments and the layers of paint accumulating into the substance of his work and adding up, finally, into really neat images.

Painting of this sort requires Rose to develop relationships with his artworks in ways that few artists can accomplish. Certainly, it's easier to paint without this kind of connection, but the painting invariably suffers. However, the art of getting one's subjects right—really right—as they need to be painted—is not easy. It requires talent, training, experience, and the ability to yield one's authority. This latter capacity is more unusual than we might think. Yielding one's authority is, from one point of view, a form of risk-taking. Risk-taking often involves failure, mistakes, and regret, emotions human beings are not quick to embrace. But good painters—really good painters—do embrace risk. They understand that embracing risk is not the same thing as good painting, but understand also that taking chances invites discovery—which can lead to innovation, which can lead to really good painting.

In this and other regards, Robin Rose is a very good painter. He understands color, texture, and composition. He likes to see what he can accomplish with encaustic and, more recently, acrylic mediums. And he produces arresting images. For example, in "Petraglow" and other of the images he has produced under the rubrics of "Endeavor" and "Resemblance," Rose often explores the organic relationship between both color and line. He wants to know how far a color can go before it becomes another color, how far a line can go before it becomes a gesture, how far a gesture can go before it becomes a pattern, and, finally, how far a painting can go before it becomes another painting. The space between the initiation and closure of colors or lines or images is where you'll find Rose, in the fervor of creational discourse, simultaneously painting and listening to his entreating subjects as they begin to emerge and finally arrive.

In his artist statement, Rose suggests he could have been an archaeologist, because he is a "finder." The comparison between Rose the artist and Rose the archaeologist is only partly useful. Archaeologists search for what was, while Rose searches for what might be. And like all good explorers, he relies upon the information he has at hand, in this case his life's work as a painter and musician, to learn what his paintings are trying to become. In this regard, Rose is more searcher than finder, more artist than archaeologist. Good painters take risks.

John A Haslem, Jr.


My aunt was a portrait painter and my great uncle was a landscape painter. They were my first inspirations.

In undergraduate school my professor was Jerry Rosenblum who helped focus my attention on the conceptual framework for making art. In graduate school I studied with both Karl Zerbe and Trevor Bell. Karl Zerbe introduced me to encaustic painting and materials. Trevor Bell was working with shaped canvases and pure luminous color. All three professors were excellent teachers.

In Washington DC I met painters Leon Berkowitz and Joe White who I consider influences.

Like many of my generation I was introduced to music early and played in bands since I was 15 years old. What I have learned from music and sound has been an incredible influence on my paintings. I am awed by the mystical relationship between what we see and what we hear.


born 1946 Ocala, FL

1972 M.F.A. Florida State University Tallahassee
1968 B.A. Florida State University Tallahassee
public collections
Academy Art Museum, Easton MD
Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN
Jacksonville Museum of Art, FL
Montgomery Museum of Art, AL
National Museum of American Art, Washington DC
The Phillips Collection, Washington DC
Wilson Building Art Collection, Washington DC


Architects + Artisans
April, 2014

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

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
Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post April, 2009

Robin Rose, Flora, on artline

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.



Robin Rose, Robert Goldstein and Bob Boilen performance/talk Hemphill Gallery

Artist/Dealer Websites

Artist Website