Jeff Robinson enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute in 1979 to study sculpture. “It was the materials (clay, the wax and bronze) that initially drew me in. I worked hard to develop the skills to create something tangible. Something original and hopefully something beautiful.”
After a decade of work in Kansas City, Robinson was ready to move back east. In 1992 he was living in New York City and painting at a prodigious rate. In the words of critic Lee Graham his work was “simultaneously rough hewn and delicately handled.” Figures took a backseat to flags and flag iconography (of his own invention). The works were adulations of symbols. Odes on objects. Handled in the manner of building up a canvas in layers of paint and then coaxing an image from this rich surface the work took on an almost sculptural quality. To add to the overt physicality, he would frequently cut and reassemble the canvas as he proceeded to its conclusion.
After the rigors of academia, Robinson began to shift his focus from sculpture to painting. “The change in medium suited me. Painting allowed me to get to more ideas quicker.” He stayed in Kansas City and partook of its burgeoning art scene like the Random Ranch and Left Bank galleries. From conventional subject matter came unconventional work. “Deconstructed figures. I liked to take things apart and put them back together again a little differently.”
Within his first months New York, he began exhibiting at the Meisner/SoHo gallery and continued to show there over the next few years. In the mid-90’s Robinson was taking part in the rebirth of art in New York by involving himself in several group shows around the city. “There were a lot of groups then like GenArt and Oracle that could bring together huge numbers of artists. It was very exciting.” He also began exhibiting in other galleries, including the project room of the Jason McCoy Gallery.
During this time Robinson’s work continued to evolve in imagery and scale. Flags began to disappear and icons began to emerge such as keys, crowns, and bridges. These images became the central focus of multiple series. “I worked large scale for a while but then I wanted a more intimate experience. I discovered that as I worked smaller the materials began to change. Canvas became paper, paint became charcoal.”
The shirt drawings and paintings were born of this restlessness with subject and material. As always, inspiration comes from unexpected sources. The actual shirt came to Robinson in NYC via a chance encounter with his friend Fred who was on his way to Goodwill with a pile of clothes. Robinson saw “the shirt,” struck by its graphic quality, put it on and added the one he had been wearing to the pile. So began the shirt drawings and paintings.
Robinson is also exhibiting a new series inspired by a childhood favorite, Spirograph. “Initially with this new subject I was exploring the subtleties of design and got caught up in the sculptural aspect of it. I made a large 12:1 scale Spirograph machine out of wood. I used it at first however, not in the creation of this current Spiro series. Even so, it was important for me to have gone through the process of designing and making it.”
Over the past five years Robinson has worked simultaneously on the two series: Same Shirt, Different Day, currently showing in Kansas City and Spiro, currently showing in New York. “Both series offer me something different and it is that variety that keeps me energized.”
Most recently, the Equus series has taken center stage. “The idea for the horses sprang from reading with my young daughter… a favorite book of farm animals. Pointing to pictures I’d ask, “What kind of animal is that?” and “What sound does it make?” Animals got stuck in my head like a tune I couldn’t shake and I began to paint them. The shape of the horse was so appealing that that became my focus. The iconic nature of the horse form worked well on the constructed canvases which are a bit reminiscent of hides.”
Robinson lives and works in Los Angeles with his wife, author Courtney Watkins, daughter Mary Charles and Tate