Hon­est Por­tray­als


International Artist - - Contents - By John O’hern

The paint­ings of Mario Robin­son fo­cus on the essence of the sit­ter as well as their uni­ver­sal truths,

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, which was held in Septem­ber, are paint­ings that are so per­sonal to him that he has kept them to him­self since he did them. 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.”

John O’hern, who has re­tired af­ter 30 years in the mu­seum busi­ness, specif­i­cally as the Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor and Cu­ra­tor of the Arnot Art Mu­seum, Elmira, N.Y., is the orig­i­na­tor of the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed Re-pre­sent­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tion ex­hi­bi­tions which pro­mote re­al­ism in its many guises. John was chair of the Artists Panel of the New York State Coun­cil on the Arts. He writes for gallery pub­li­ca­tions around the world, in­clud­ing reg­u­lar monthly fea­tures in Amer­i­can Art Col­lec­tor and West­ern Art Col­lec­tor mag­a­zines.

Spirit on Chan­nel Drive, 2010, water­color on pa­per, 20 x 30" (51 x 76 cm)

Ma­jor’s Gen­eral Store, 2012, water­color on pa­per, 9 x 12" (23 x 30 cm)

Sergeant Ja­cobs, 2012, water­color on pa­per, 9 x 12" (23 x 30 cm)

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