Robin, in 1978 you won the St. Leo’s College Prize for one of your abstract paintings, and more than 30 years on the form still fascinates you. What is it about abstract art?
Abstraction is a sophisticated universal language with a long history not only in the west, but originating at the beginning of human culture where it may have had more concrete meanings. It incorporates visual and experiential information both in the making and in the viewing, that work on a number of levels.
Without reading your PhD thesis (and in 25 words or less), is there room for rational thought in abstract painting?
Yes. Rational thought operates in the choice of formal visual language used when I start a work and in the analytical choices used when nudging a work to completion.
You lecture in painting at RMIT and studied your PhD there in 1998, how does your work reflect the constant exchange of ideas available through tertiary education?
As part of my work at RMIT I run the New York Study Tour and return every year to a city I lived in for 10 years. This allows me to view major shows and artworks first hand. This experience and the research whilst preparing for the tour, feed directly into my practice and teaching. I enjoy the exchange of ideas with students. It works both ways – I learn lots from them too.
You also studied, and received awards for your work, at the New York Studio School. How did your time in NY affect your art?
Hugely! I would not be the artist I am without my experience of New York. I needed to experience artworks first hand, unmediated – to learn directly from them –historical and contemporary. Art has kudos in New York and it is taken very seriously. Still pretty much everything gravitates to NY – ideas, thinkers, major shows, contemporary art and there are lots of ways to operate as an artist there. Art and culture is valued.
A Series of Variables is a huge work. What are the ‘abstract’ advantages of working across a large space?
The work is always made in direct relationship to the space. I am always mindful of how the viewer will move through the space and what I am asking them to engage with in the work.
The body, or the performative, is considered both for me and for the viewer.
You also have the ability to move your work and re-create it in a new space. How does that benefit the artwork and you as the artist?
Every space has its own issues and challenges. What I can change and what I can’t etc. I do not plan a work and ‘fit it to the site’. It actually works the other way around – the work is dictated by the site. I have a vocabulary that changes each time I make a new work. No work is repeated as it is a new experience depending on the site. This is exciting and a challenge. I work intuitively and have no idea exactly what a work will look like until it is finished.
Space is certainly no issue within the huge refurbished factory walls of Stockroom. Being city-based what motivated you to take your work to Kyneton?
I grew up in the country, so Kyneton is reminiscent of the town nearest to the family property in NSW. The country is a source of inspiration to me as I spend a lot of time walking and contemplating. I enjoy country towns – everything is so accessible, so am looking forward to my time in Kyneton whilst painting in the work.
Abstract art often feels quite futuristic, which will work in contrast to the historic feel of Piper Street. Is there something exciting about bringing old and new together?
I have not considered this issue in relation to this exhibition. I have never considered Abstract art futuristic. My work is made with attentiveness to the surroundings so we will see if it arises whilst painting in the show.
Your work will be shown with fellow artists Rhett D’Costa and Fran Van Riemsdyk. How important is the art community?
My peers are important to me. I love engaging with their artworks. We don’t often discuss art – more issues of interest such as dogs, food, gardens, shoes and clothes…. For me art arises out of things I consider important in my life – observation, perception and reading included.
And finally, what do you hope people get from your piece?
My work deliberately looks easy – it is however very complex. My work is all about issues in painting. I hope that people will slow down enough to engage with the work and that they will find surprises that encourage them to look harder. What they see on first encountering the work will with work, unfold. The work is experiential, and only exists for the time of the exhibition. The people who see the work are the only ones who will have this experience. Photo documentation can never capture the real meaning of the work. Documentation pictorialises, rather than giving you the experiential - which is paramount in the work.
CATCH ROBIN'S NEW SHOW "HERE WITH YOU" AT STOCKROOM FROM JUNE 15 - JULY 10