On painting with watercolor > “My commitment to the plight of working-class people is undeniable,” says Mario Robinson…
The Winds of Change
BY MARIO ANDRES ROBINSON
Throughout my 22-year career as a professional artist, I’ve been inspired by the beauty of the United States of America and the diversity of her people—whether it’s the strength and resilience of African Americans residing in rural Alabama, or my family members and friends in Oklahoma and Texas. I’ve attempted to offer a glimpse into a world far removed from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood or mainstream media coverage. My commitment to the plight of working-class people is undeniable, and the hundreds of images I’ve created speak to my undying devotion.
In recent years, I’ve begun to examine the short-sightedness of my vision as it pertained to the inclusion of all of this country’s citizens. The catalyst was a presentation I was giving in 2013 at Syracuse University. I can recall the faces of the students as the lights came on following my slide presentation. While they were respectful and inquisitive as to my painting techniques, I noticed there was a disconnect between the imagery and the somber tone surrounding many of the works and the limited life experience of my youthful audience. While my work is highly personal and a reflection of the people and places that inspire me, it should also possess a universal appeal.
I thought long and hard about the way in which I could infuse my body of work with subject matter that a younger generation would find interesting. The risk was alienating groups of people who had supported my work for many years, such as gallery representatives, magazine editors, collectors, and even fellow artists. There is a certain kind of comfort in predictability. My paintings and drawings were branded with labels such as Afro-centric, the voice of the people, etc. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that even the seascapes and landscapes I created fell under such descriptions, based solely upon the assumed “race” of the artist. While examining my work and career, I noticed a stereotype had formed. Artists of color are largely relegated to a myopic viewpoint, which presupposes that inspiration only flows when a subject is identified as an African American or a person of color. I reject the temptation of tribalism.
For the past few years, I’ve expanded my vision of America and have focused largely on our nation’s young adults. Despite the tumultuous times in which we live, there is a resilience and audacity which propels many of them through life. The world has changed drastically since I was a twenty-something in the 1990s.
The way in which we communicate has been distilled into words on a screen, whether they appear on a computer monitor or a personal device. There’s an impersonal quality that permeates our relationships. The portraits I’ve set out to create of young women are intimate in terms of the compositions and devoid of clothing in some cases. This is a subtle nod to the lack of inhibition of one’s formative years. The viewer is allowed to freely examine the sitter in a way that borders on voyeurism. There’s also an element of stillness in the work, which is not readily associated with youth.
The frenetic pace of our contemporary world does not allow for an abundance of quiet, reflective moments. From the instant we wake up until the time we fall asleep, we’re bombarded with distractions. I value the time spent in the studio, interacting with a model in silence while the world around us is temporarily held at bay.
I’ve posted several of my recent works on social media for the past year and the reaction has been predictably mixed. While many loyal followers of my work have openly expressed confusion and outright disappointment, I’ve also received support from a new group of supporters. I’ve learned that you can’t please everyone. My job is to create from an honest place. I must remain open to new avenues of expression even if they lead to uncomfortable places.
This very notion was the provocation for Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga Series.” The excitement of a muse which provided an outlet for his vast imagination, while deviating away from imagery that brought him acclaim, ignited a flame that became difficult to extinguish. As I reflect upon my decision to chart a new path for my work, I am certain that it was necessary, and my body of work has been strengthened by the inclusion of the diversity.
ABOUT MARIO ROBINSON
Mario Andres Robinson was born in Altus, Oklahoma, where he resided with his family before relocating to New Jersey at the age of 12. Robinson studied at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In 2014, Robinson was chosen to be a brand ambassador for Winsor and Newton art materials. He is the author of the soon-to-be-released book, Lessons in Realistic Watercolor, a comprehensive guide of the artist’s watercolor techniques.
Robinson’s work fits squarely within the tradition of American painting. His finished works bear a close affinity to the masters of the realist tradition, Andrew Wyeth and Thomas Eakins. Containing few references to modern life, Robinson’s work has a timeless and universal quality, and exhibits a distinct turn-of-the-20th-century stylistic aesthetic. The images he chooses, which refer to a bygone era where solitude and reflection were abundant, also provoke frequent allusions to the paintings of Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper.
Robinson is an Exhibiting Artist Member (EAM) of the National Arts Club, an Artist Member of the Salmagundi Club, and a Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America. His work has been featured several times in The Artist’s Magazine, the Pastel Journal, Watercolor Magic, American Art Collector, and Fine Art Connoisseur and on the cover of American Artist magazine. In the February 2006 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, Robinson was selected as one of the top 20 realist artists under the age of 40.