Within the hyper-specific lies the universal. It is from this ethos that Brian Robertson takes thoughts, images, and narratives from inside himself and translates them into painting, forming a kind of surreal investigation of self within each piece. In some cases this nod towards self-reflection and portraiture is obvious, such as in a recent body of work wherein Robertson utilizes his own clothing and body but replaces his head with some form of organic matter, most often a cactus — a nod to his hometown roots in New Mexico. However, in other instances the portraiture operates more abstractly, almost like a metaphor, and a smattering of objects can serve as stand-in figures that represent a mood, a feeling or a sensitivity.
Says Robertson, “I’ve engaged in a meditation practice for the past year and all I’ve learned is noise… My work has become this, recording the noise and reverse engineering my emotional state from it.” In this sense, Robertson’s practice is a way for him to check in with his own reality, a way to access and re-access who he is. Far from solipsistic, Robertson records and translates these intimate and vulnerable parts of himself into a painting in order to share them, in the hopes that the viewer can take that act of unguardedness and mimic it themselves, opening up a space from which mutual self-discovery and communication can occur.
Perhaps to serve as a counter to this initial emotional rawness and hyper-sensitivity, Robertson’s process, by contrast, is extremely detail-oriented and laborious. Starting with a vague idea about a story or thought he would like to convey and taking cues from art historical references such as the moody narratives of Giorgio de Chirico and the illustrative illusionism of Ukiyo-E woodbloock prints, Robertson goes through countless sketches, drawings and mock-ups before finally arriving at a comprehensive study he then renders digitally. From there Robertson employs a strict palette of black and white acrylic paint and medium using various painting methods such as airbrushing and meticulous masking, further restraining his subjective impulses via scrupulous craftsmanship and painterly techniques developed during his time in graphic design, illustration and commercial mural painting.
In meditation it is discipline that saves us from the tyranny of the mind. We transcend from a state of confusion, within which we are so dominated by our thoughts and feelings we often believe ourselves to be them, to existing in a state wherein we let them go, experiencing them and letting them pass through us without judgement. In many ways Robertson’s paintings are evidence of hyper-subjective introspection, but through a combination of image-based translation and meticulous craftsmanship they ultimately become a kind of pool or mirror for the viewer’s own introspection, leaving an open void within which to connect or disconnect across the liminal space and time of a painting.