MARIO A. ROBINSON: HONEST PORTRAYALS
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"