The self-taught artist of today has access to all of the materials, tools, and techniques of the trained professional. All that’s really missing, perhaps, is a multi-year immersion in art-talk. As former editor of Artnet magazine from its beginnings until its demise earlier this year, Walter Robinson has certainly had that immersion. But he still paints like the untrained enthusiasts you’ll find in neighborhood art clubs all over the country, with no interest in either the theoretical conceits of contemporary art or the technical virtuosity of traditional ateliers. Like many of these artists, his paintings appear to have begun with photographs of things he likes. He’s not trying to analyze or undermine them. He just likes them—and what he mostly likes is food and girls, not so much high-end as pleasant and accessible. (An appetite that many men, including myself, happily share). There’s not a lot of subtlety in pattern or color relationships either. And the pieces are modestly sized, so there is no attempt to overpower the viewer with an assertion such as “This is Important Art.” But it’s also very hard not to enjoy them—because his designs are balanced and his marks are assertive.
This is an artist who has seen, and thought about, a lot of painting. Looking at his work is like meeting a strong, affable, well-experienced man who has found a way to live happily in our world without much pretense, an achievement that is hardly ever celebrated by an art world that often prefers the reverse. As an active, outgoing person he is so much of our time it may be difficult to see what’s so special. But I am sure that in a hundred years his paintings will be a fascinating window into our lives, just as Artnet magazine will serve as a useful window into our art world. And if you like Robinson’s work, you might also check out the exhibits of your local art club where people just as dedicated, talented and straightforward are also painting to please no one but themselves. Virtuosity or extraordinary visions are rarely to be found. But as with the Fayum portraits from early-Christian Egypt, you feel like you’ve met real people, the kind you’d like to have as neighbors. (Chris Miller)
Through January 19 at Firecat Projects, 2124 North Damen