An exhibition for and about the love of looking, “Nathaniel Robinson 2020-2021” at Devening Projects is a visual vaccine for the chronically over-distracted. Paintings’ power to simultaneously still the mind and fire the imagination is on full display across two galleries of tightly composed still lives and anonymous landscapes. Robinson, who is probably best known as a sculptor, conjures uncanny scenes with seemingly effortless, light-as-a-feather brushstrokes.
Though the show cumulatively foregrounds an almost eerie stillness, motion and an inability to focus are at the conceptual heart of these untitled oils. As the artist himself relates, “many of the paintings involve a sense of glimpses caught in passing, and the puzzle I try to solve is how to preserve this quality.” His solution centers on compositions that, although rich with clear focal and accent points (mangoes, garages and bundt cakes, to name a few), exist in a state of constant peripheral vision.
Take as one example a large 2021 work that depicts the corner of a blue suburban home and three white sections of prefabricated fencing. At first glance, the work registers as a perfectly tenable landscape with a nod to the geometries of modernism. In short order, the instability sets in. The compressed space begins to seem less real. The angles of the fence are too acute. The vegetation assumes the air of a rapidly brushed theatrical backdrop. Plausibility gives way to perplexity and the work resolves itself “in the corner” of our eyes.
Capturing things half-seen, or the “slipping glimpse” as Willem De Kooning once referred to it, has been a preoccupation among painters for decades. But few resolve this paradox adequately and even fewer do so in the terms of representational painting. That Robinson succeeds so brilliantly and so consistently without having to rely on gimmicks to create the illusion of movement is a testament to his gift for critical observation, no less than his prowess with a brush. No specialist knowledge is required, only open and alert eyes. This show is a true must-see. (Alan Pocaro)
“Nathaniel Robinson 2020-2021” is on view at Devening Projects, 3039 West Carroll, through October 16.