“My desk at home (which I share with artist Jamie Brunson) is fairly organized. This is where I research, design, and play Sudoku. I am surrounded by other artist’s work as well as some of my own storage overflow. The photo includes work by artists: Walter Robinson, Al Farrow, Ray Beldner, David King, Jamie Brunson, Timothy Cummings, Catherine Courtenaye.
I inherited a family proclivity to collect random things and search for algorithms that explain how they are connected. All of the cultural artifacts and cannibalized bits that surround me are just waiting for a narrative. My studio is where I spend a majority of my life unmaking, making and remaking things. Occasionally I will try and restore order when I have to buy things I already own but can’t find. Usually I only see the few projects I am focused on completing and the clutter falls away. I am currently working towards a show and intend to clean up after delivery. I do some of my finest work in my sleep.”
Walter Robinson works in a range of materials— wood, epoxy, metal, and found materials— of which he hand-fabricates and assembles objects, signage and tableaux that investigate the mechanics of cultural and social anthropology. Using text and the strategies of appropriation, conflation, and dislocation, he uncovers the subconscious and biological human imperatives hidden beneath social, political, religious, and capitalist packaging.
Robinson’s work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the San Jose Museum of Art, Villa Montalvo, and most recently Zidoun Gallery in Berlin. His work has received critical attention from a number of publications including Artforum, ArtReview, Vanity Fair, and the San Francisco Chronicle. An alumnus of Lone Mountain College’s master of fine arts program, he also studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and what was formerly the California College of the Arts and Crafts. Robinson lives and works in San Francisco.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
WALTER ROBINSON: My work involves designing and fabricating 3 dimensional pieces from a variety of materials, sometimes in conjunction with found objects. I do some drawing and scaling and then use whatever tools the job requires. Usually I have 2 or 3 pieces going at once and maybe a commission piece. Right now I am working on a series of large clown paintings on panels, a couple of small flat text commissions and 4 new “Transport” pieces that conflate Rothko with automotive logos.
FYD: What is your favorite sentimental object at your workspace and why?
WR: At my home office, I have a piece I made that is coated with my father’s cremains. At my studio space, there are too many to choose from.
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
WR: Overall I would say a pencil is my most important tool. It is a pathway from imagination to reality.
FYD: What kind of pencils do you use?
WR: I use 2h pencils for everyday layout and planning. When I make finished drawings, I use a range of hardnesses. I also like the quality of ball point drawings.
There is a pure primitive joy to applying color.
FYD: Growing up, what kinds of kid activities did you partake in?
WR: I enjoyed cartoons on TV – I wasn’t allowed to buy comic books which is fine. I liked Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone. My father had a home wood shop where I learned how to use tools at an early age and spent a lot of time in the shop either improvising or making objects from my imagination or copying things in my environment. I was pretty kinetic and also spent time exploring outdoors.
FYD: When you sleep you do some pretty fine work – are you dreaming up new works?
WR: Sometimes I do some problem solving in my sleep. Sometimes I solve problems that I never considered before. The clown series I mentioned was suggested by a dream where I was painting a “paint by numbers” painting and all the shapes were shades of red.
FYD: Your work showcases pops of color- certainly red. Do you dream in color?
WR: There is a pure primitive joy to applying color. Colors trigger a large range of emotions and I consciously try and employ this power in concert or counterpoint to the content of a piece. Advertising has made a science out of this. I do dream in color and sometimes colors that are outside of the known spectrum.
FYD: Do you watch any television shows ? Also – are you a regular newspaper reader? Does all the news seem bad?
I read the paper online and listen to NPR – I stay informed. It seems like most published news is either bad or “entertainment”. I like hearing about new research that explains the neurological and biological reason for human behavior (good or bad). Human behavior hasn’t changed, just the technological means of acting on our impulses. Lately, like many others, I tend to binge watch TV series. There is a lot of well produced TV now and in the US it is better than a lot of film output. Thinking about it, good TV is usually about bad behavior. I read a lot of literature also. Narrative, character development, metaphor are all part of my work.
FYD: How has pop culture influenced your work?
WR: I came of age as pop art was being born. I am a product of pop culture. Pop icons and cartoon characters are our modern pantheon, never mind that they are trying to sell us something. I think the irony of this is fading and the world pretty much accepts this as gospel. Pop culture really is our culture.
Being an artist takes a lot of time.
FYD: Do you find there to be a difference between pop culture and junk culture? Would you define them differently?
WR: I’m not sure what you mean by junk culture. I think you are referring to art made from repurposed junk, found objects? Maybe this is a newer creature that pop has evolved into. Originally pop art pushed back at a full – blown post war commercialism and it came with a large dose of irony. Junk culture seems more sincere – trying to find new solutions and beauty in the detritus. I also think that younger people understand that unrepressed consumption is not working for us.
I am a product of pop culture.
FYD: Without being overly complicated, via “Junk” culture- I consider it the recycling of images from “pop culture” — I only think images have grown junkier, more low brow – in the Kardashian way. Maybe Junk culture is the new 15 minutes of fame. Pop culture carries more of a cool connotation. Is pop culture still relevant and well, poppy?
WR: I agree pop culture used to be so much happier. Before digital media people had more time in their lives to be interact with the world first hand, so there was more balance. At this point even alternative culture has been co-opted by capitalism. Popular culture now is mainly a sludge of deconstructed, reconstructed imagery employed to trigger hunger in a population that never stop consuming. I think pop art drew attention to this irony and can still do this. Reality TV and celebrity news is shockingly empty.
WR: My work went through a political phase during the last presidential administration. It was hard to ignore. Although I follow geopolitics with great interest, at this point in my career I am looking at more elemental human concerns.
FYD: Do you find Americans more fixated on labels than other cultures – or it is more of keeping up with the Joneses?
WR: America owns a lion’s share of the labels and I think the whole world understands their power nowadays. I don’t really subscribe to the talismanic power of brands. I find it amusing and sometimes sad that people feel that their unique personal identity is lacking without brand support.
FYD: How do you relax?
WR: I really need to relax more. Being an artist takes a lot of time. I’ll let you know after my show in November (at the Catherine Clark Gallery).