The fashion world’s favourite art bomber of the Instagram era, DONALD ROBERTSON, talks to STEPHEN SHORT
THE ANDY WARHOL of Instagram is the epithet earned by Donald Robertson. Robertson’s work (published this month by Assouline in Donald), is multi-dimensional, sharp and humorous, and is collected by stars such as Beyoncé.
He has collaborated with brands such as Smashbox and retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman. He is celebrated by the worlds of fashion and art, and by almost anyone seeing his work for the first time, as an inspiration. As prolific as he is talented, Robertson is known to his online followers @drawbertson.
When did you first realise you were an artist or have you always been one to wake up at the crack of dawn to paint Anna Wintour on a US$100 bill?
Even though my work feels all over the place, I do have parameters. I love lips. I love tape. I love colour. I am really into fashion and beauty. And I love comedy. I like a good joke. I love to laugh at myself and any people who take themselves too seriously. My fave subjects are always surprising me when they laugh along, too. Carine Roitfeld, for example. I have been poking fun at her for years. She loves it. How great is that? Karl Lagerfeld too, is in on the joke. Fashion people are just giant kids.
Who most inspires your art?
Picasso said he spent his entire life trying to paint like a child. I love that quote. It’s so true. Me too. Never grow up – Peter Pan said it best. All kids are born artists. It’s all about clinging to your inner big baby. Approach paint and paper like you are two, not 22. Remember, art is magic. Wave your wand around.
You dropped out of college, yes?
I didn’t want to be a starving artist. I wanted to live like a finance guy, but do art for a living. That was my plan. Screw college. You know what the best college in the world is? Paris. That’s where I moved.
What did you learn in Paris?
I went to the school of being French. I was a Canadian schmo who needed a European take on the world. I wanted to be more sophisticated. I started in London and then landed in the City of Light. Everyone should. Hard to explain why. Just do it. I snuck into Paris fashion shows.
The editors from Canadian fashion mags dragged me backstage. I loved it. I loved photo shoots: models, hair, make-up and magazine people. I loved the whole scene. It was a safe place for creativity and weirdness.
So you were hungry, broke and toting around a portfolio in a country where you didn’t speak the language. What was your big break?
I met a woman who changed my life in a blink. Her name was Francis Hathaway. She was a make-up artist. She knew I had run out of moolah and was heading back to Toronto.
She said:”Call these guys when you get home. They’re starting a little make-up line, and I think they would dig your work.” I said, OK. That little make-up line was Makeup Art Cosmetics, aka M. A.C. I was their first artist-in-residence/ idea guy. The rest is all on Google. The things I’m proudest of are the revolutionary M.A.C Viva Glam campaign with RuPaul, and the artwork for them over the years. It was a blast.
I think of you as a David Hockney/boardroom hybrid. How did you get into the business and specifically beauty?
Guess what? The beauty business is recessionproof. You never had a bad year. People will forgo food but never product. This is how I puffed out my finance-guy lifestyle. I blended the world of vanity with my love of art. It’s why I paint lips and work at Estée Lauder. Leonard and Ronald Lauder are my heroes. They get it. They rule the art world and the beauty world.
As someone dubbed the Andy Warhol of our era, what do you make of pop culture?
Forget his piss paintings and soft-core porn movies. More than anything, the thing Andy Warhol did to shock me the most was being a guest on this incredibly cheesy primetime television show in the 1980s called The Love Boat. I’ll never forget him coming down the ramp, playing himself. It was bananas. Andy made it pretty clear there are no rules. You just have to be wide-eyed and totally oblivious to what are set up as norms-for-life guidelines. Try to find that episode of The Love Boat. #