Por­trait of a Por­traitist

North East artist plans to do­nate year of paint­ings for wounded vets

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By JOE ANTOSHAK

jan­toshak@ches­pub.com

— When you walk into Cameron John Rob­bins’s house, it’s just about im­pos­si­ble to miss the framed paint­ings and pic­tures on the walls — most no­tice­ably, sev­eral por­traits.

To the left, there’s one of his mother hold­ing a vi­o­lin and of his fa­ther as a young man in his Navy uni­form. To the right, there’s an­other of his fa­ther, this time an older man, seem­ing to look past the younger self al­most di­rectly across from him.

Rob­bins painted th­ese, and it makes sense that he would have them hang­ing in the en­try­way. They im­me­di­ately set a mood in the home — one that’s dig­ni­fied and a bit somber — and he’s a firm be­liever that en­vi­ron­ment plays a cru­cial role in how a per­son views him or her­self. He, for one, sees him­self as an artist, specif­i­cally as a por­traitist and a fig­u­ra­tive sculp­tor.

Now a 40-year-old man, that self-iden­tity has led him down try­ing roads in the past. Since grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of Utah in 2003 with a Bach­e­lors of Fine Arts, he’s had dif­fi­culty se­cur­ing gain­ful em­ploy­ment and at times been home­less. As he said jok­ingly, he’s lived the life of a starv­ing artist.

But he’s try­ing to change his luck. In 2017, he’ll em­bark on a year-long project called “Stronger Be­cause of You,” for which he’ll paint 20 por­traits of wounded vet-

NORTH EAST

er­ans, with all the pro­ceeds go­ing to the Pur­ple Heart Foun­da­tion. He hopes it will turn out mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial, both rais­ing money and aware­ness for vet­er­ans and help­ing him to es­tab­lish his name as a por­traitist.

Rob­bins comes from a long line of mil­i­tary men. As noted, his fa­ther served in the Navy, and he grew up in a mil­i­tary house­hold that moved from place to place. At least three in his fam­ily have been wounded in Amer­i­can bat­tles dat­ing back to the Civil War.

And even to­day, Rob­bins said, there is pre­cious lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the unique chal­lenges that emerge af­ter those who have served re­turn to the states.

“Even if a vet­eran is not wounded, most of what you learn in the mil­i­tary is not trans­fer­able to the civil­ian job mar­ket, de­spite what the re­cruiters tell you,” Rob­bins said. “When you add wounds on top of that, the chal­lenges com­pound. They need help, and they de­serve help. In my opin­ion, they are en­ti­tled to our sup­port.”

Rob­bins views his art me­thod­i­cally and, he said, in a way that some artists might say is hereti­cal. To him, each piece of art he cre­ates is a prod­uct like any other you would pay money for. Over the years, he be­gan to won­der why more artists didn’t treat their vo­ca­tion as a busi­ness per­son would. He de­cided he should try.

In his stu­dio, where he works on sev­eral por­traits at a time, he ex­plained his process, which in­cludes grid work and, of course, acute at­ten­tion to de­tail. He has to be aware of his mood be­fore he be­gins to paint, he said, since that can af­fect the end re­sult.

Lately he’s been paint­ing rich and pow­er­ful men, both be­cause they’re the peo­ple he looks to as role mod­els and be­cause they make up a large part of the group most likely to buy his por­traits down the road. He also be­lieves that most peo­ple don’t care about the process of the artist; that the end re­sult is all that mat­ters. So he pitches his com­pleted work as hav­ing a po­ten­tially trans­for­ma­tive ef­fect.

“A painted por­trait is not only a re­flec­tion of you as you are; it can be a re­flec­tion of you as you wish to be, in a much more de­lib­er­ate way than a pho­to­graph,” Rob­bins said. “Imag­ine how you’d feel, or what you would think was pos­si­ble, if you had a painted por­trait around ev­ery­day that was a re­flec­tion of the life you want to be liv­ing. Would that im­pact the de­ci­sions you make? Would that im­pact the way you feel about your­self? Would that in­flu­ence what you think is pos­si­ble?”

When he was a younger man, Rob­bins chose to forego mil­i­tary en­list­ment, be­cause he felt called in other di­rec­tions. He idol­ized his fa­ther, but he didn’t think his per­son­al­ity would make for a good sol­dier.

He still wants to help where he can. A press re­lease he sent to the Whig on Sept. 15 stated that he hoped the do­na­tions would top $100,000 over the course of the next year. In early 2018, he’d like to dis­play all 20 por­traits in a gallery, though he hasn’t se­cured a lo­ca­tion yet.

He plans to launch a Kick- starter page some­time this month in or­der to raise money for ma­te­ri­als for the project.

“I also rec­og­nize the op­por­tu­nity to set an en­cour­ag­ing ex­am­ple for peo­ple like me, who want to help, but don’t have the per­sonal re­sources to help as much as they want to,” Rob­bins said. “But what if you think out­side the box a bit? What can you con­trib­ute that can be trans­lated into more money than you can write a check for? Do you have a tal­ent or a gift? Do you have a net­work?

“This is hope­fully go­ing to in­spire peo­ple to stop and think, ‘Oh maybe there is more I can do if I’m just a lit­tle more cre­ative about it.’”

CE­CIL WHIG PHO­TOS BY JOE ANTOSHAK

Cameron John Rob­bins, a North East painter who plans to do­nate the pro­ceeds from 20 por­traits to the Pur­ple Heart Foun­da­tion, stands in his stu­dio among sev­eral works-in-progress.

Rob­bins dis­cusses his por­traits of busi­ness mag­nate War­ren Buf­fet and Gold­man Sachs CEO Lloyd Blank­fein. Per­haps con­trary to the artist stereo­type, Rob­bins con­sid­ers th­ese men role mod­els.

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