by antique blue
and white pitcher
Oil on canvas board
8" X 6"
|Still Life Animating Memory
by James Eaton
Interpreting art is dangerous business. So many personalities bruise so easily – fresh fruit, still life, and human
ego have so much in common. Still, reviewing Southern California still life artist, Robin Anderson, is great fun
and a risk worth taking. Knowing and reviewing gifted people is more amusing than possessing talent itself.
Accommodating change is the most difficult process humans endure; in our small, inner world, memory fades
behind a veil of distorted vision. Ultimately, memory becomes happier, and sometimes more sad, than the actual
moment. But the demands of time are dominant and memory will endure in its imperfect, partially hidden
world, peeking out from behind the semi-translucent veil of moments past. Robin Anderson parts the veil to the
unconscious and allows us a glimpse.
Artists have a sacred duty to bring veiled memories to light. The talented artist is the midwife that delivers us to
the understanding we normally choose to ignore, but in wisdom, we finally embrace. A talented artist never
performs this sacred task directly; the artist is grounded by indirect inference. The observer too, like the artist,
must struggle for meaning or the baby will never be delivered. The artist’s technique is not the source of initial
engagement – although that inspection comes later. A painting’s success is revealed by engaging the sense of
humanity and memory, both present, and standing just the other side of gauzy veil.
Robin Anderson’s new paintings qualify as the midwife of change – indirect, veiled, possessed of joy and
sadness, and almost present, if not for the small distance separating memory from the now. Robin is painting
something far more significant than still life. Robin is representing a deeper aesthetic. Her current paintings
incorporate a sense of the moment, of insight, and tear at time to let consciousness breath.
I am always aware of my male sensibility when judging art. When a man judges another man’s art, the process
of aesthetic appraisal is much easier. But when a man judges a woman’s art, the process is much more complex;
as with all gender communication, this is more a problem of exposition than insight. While I recognize the
feminine intelligence of Robin’s hand and eye, I also recognize that she is expressing ideas universal to all
humankind, independent of mere gender, and offering a more successful aesthetic available to both male and
female sensibilities. This is the talent and the accomplishment of a gifted artist.
The two paintings above, “Tangerines” and “Geraniums” are new arrivals to Robin’s family. She has clearly
made a dramatic effort to separate from her former studied technique of still life on a grand scale. It is less that
these paintings are less grand and more that they are just so much more accessible. They are human, common,
imperfect in form and frame. They are wounded by life, yet filled with all the human divinity that inspires life
on a grand scale.
“Tangerines” is reminiscent of Robin’s recent “Figs” in design and presentation, yet reflective of the place citrus
has in the well-lit palette of culinary sense and oil on canvas. The tangerines reflect the light in the room. They
enable a reflection on the polished table. They do not brood. They are not guilty. And they have nothing to
confess. The vase in the background is a classic piece, partially framed, and the image lifts. The tangerines are
both whole and partially crushed. This is an important representation. The dichotomy of what is apparent and
what exists on the inside is an important vision. More, the fact that what exists on the interior is partially
crushed and oozing life is what catapults the meaning of the images to a higher level of philosophical and
“Geraniums” is also a very good painting, but for different reasons than “Tangerines”. It is beautiful and
immediate, common, but also noble. It is pretty in the feminine sense, but commonly accessible to all. With
“Geraniums”, the eye will naturally follow the image without being condemned for staring. The pedals are not
studied. The stems follow a natural course, weighed down by life itself. The simple fruit jar holding the flowers
distorts the image behind the veil of glass and water, causing memory, leaf, and plant stem to dissolve into a
recognizable chaos. The painting affects me as does a still life by Manet painted over a century ago. For Robin to
arrive at the same place as Manet is only the highest of achievements and makes me want more, very soon.
Of no less importance is the background for each painting. Figure is only known in context. Robin’s context
offers a germane background that does not demand attention unless you choose it. This matter immediately
takes me to technique. The brush is intense and lifting, swirling the eye behind the formal image. I like this
technique as much as I like the painting’s subject. A bad context will ensure a bad painting – Robin sidesteps
this problem very nicely.
Robin’s art is changing. That may be a source of its immediacy and risk. This is a moment in an artist’s history
that is recognizable, vulnerable, and disappears as the norm becomes the established and the creative opening
closes. This is the energy of Robin’s work that evokes the sense of memory and humanity lost in time, yet
present in the chaos of present life. – Jim Eaton