American Art Collector - - Contents - By John O’Hern

Carl Jung (1875-1961), the founder of an­a­lyt­i­cal psy­chol­ogy, wrote, “One doesn’t be­come en­light­ened by imag­in­ing fig­ures of light but by mak­ing the dark­ness con­scious.” Mario Robin­son doesn’t paint “pretty pic­tures.” He paints what we see and what we don’t see. His wa­ter­col­ors of fam­ily and friends as well as scenes near his home on the Jersey Shore and his child­hood home in Ok­la­homa make the dark­ness con­scious.

He quotes Andrew Wyeth, who wrote, “I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes. I see no rea­son for painting but that. If I have any­thing to of­fer, it is my emo­tional con­tact with the place where I live and the peo­ple I do.”

Robin­son’s love for the peo­ple and places he paints goes deep. He ac­knowl­edges the dark side of Wyeth and ob­serves, “the dark­ness isn’t a de­vice. It’s the real un­der­belly of life.” He dis­cov­ered Wyeth in a print of

his painting Mas­ter Bed­room. Fas­ci­nated, he “spent all day in the ref­er­ence room of the li­brary check­ing him out. I hadn’t seen his por­traits un­til then. I pored through big books on Wyeth and be­came en­am­ored with the free­dom and the flow of his wa­ter­col­ors. I had been work­ing in pas­tel be­cause I had heard how dif­fi­cult wa­ter­color is. In 2001 I fi­nally sat down and tried it.”

He re­calls that his only real con­nec­tion with the art world was sit­ting for hours on the wooden benches of book­stores, look­ing at art mag­a­zines. “I saw a lot of paint­ings by Burt Sil­ver­man and Max Gins­burg and kind of ad­mired their work. It was like a breath of fresh air. They were painting real sub­jects, peo­ple you could ac­tu­ally see in New York,” Robin­son shares. “I also dis­cov­ered Dan Greene. I ad­mired their courage to break from the norm, to paint por­traits that ed­ify a per­son’s soul. They’re like soul food.”

When he be­gan to do por­traits, he told him­self, “I re­ally have to be hon­est and paint the ac­tual peo­ple. But, I want to be re­spect­ful. If the per­son is go­ing to go on a jour­ney with me, the road might get too bumpy. I give the painting enough grace and lev­ity to still get out of it what I need. My goal isn’t to shock. I want to get peo­ple’s at­ten­tion and make them think about some of these univer­sal truths.”

Many of the paint­ings in his in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion at Bernarducci Gallery in New York are paint­ings that are so per­sonal to him that he has kept them to him­self since he did them. They will be shown at the New York gallery Septem­ber 6 through 29.

Among the paint­ings is Hound’s Tooth, 2007, a por­trait of his step-aunt who babysat him when he was a boy. She is a “no-non­sense” lady who, here, is dressed up for Easter Sun­day in her hound’s tooth jacket. “She had a bit­ing tone when she was ask­ing me ques­tions,” he says. “I thought of her hound’s tooth jacket and felt like she was al­most dig­ging into me.”

On breaks from his work in the stu­dio “to get my mind off things,” he rides his Cruiser bike around town and along the shore. Cruiser, 2016, de­picts his

trusty bike rest­ing on its kick­stand along the board­walk. The idyl­lic scene is an ex­am­ple of his be­ing “en­am­ored with light” but also has its dark side. With the wide beach and the sea in the back­ground, the white and closed ticket booth rep­re­sents “a huge ob­struc­tion—a harsh re­al­ity we live with.” Ac­cess to the beach is by a $9 fee.

On one of his bike rides, he con­tem­plated the boats he sees in the wa­ter and thought, “If I were to paint boats I would paint them in a ship­yard.” He dis­cov­ered fish­ing boats in a nearby ship­yard and was im­pressed by “how mam­moth they are” when out of the wa­ter. He saw the boat Spirit and “the word sealed it. I thought about the hard lives fish­er­men live and said ‘Let’s cel­e­brate this.’”

Ok­la­homa Wheat Field, 2010, is a por­trait of his fa­ther, a man he didn’t get to know un­til he was in his 20s. Robin­son lived with his mother and step­fa­ther in a house next to the wheat field. He used to cut across the field to mid­dle school when the wheat was taller than he was. “I thought, ‘What if my fa­ther just showed up one day? What would it look like?’ When he saw the painting, he thought the ti­tle was ‘too im­per­sonal.’ But the painting isn’t about him. It’s about the lonely trek across the field.”

Robin­son’s per­sonal sto­ries are univer­sal sto­ries. “I want to show my re­ac­tion to places and re­la­tion­ships and their ef­fect on me. When you get to an hon­est place as an artist, peo­ple know it, they smell it, they can see it. I’ve trained as an artist so the ve­hi­cle is in good shape. I’m try­ing to hit on all those emo­tional cylin­ders.”

1 Spirit on Chan­nel Drive, 2010, wa­ter­color onpa­per, 20 x 30"

2Hound’s Tooth, 2007, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 14 x 20" 3Ok­la­homa Wheat Field, 2010, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 24 x 36"4Ma­jor’s Gen­eral Store,2012, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 9 x 12"

5Cruiser, 2016, wa­ter­color on pa­per 22¼ x 18"6Sergeant Ja­cobs, 2012, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 9 x 12"

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