Artist in Residence
July - September 2018
Kevin Robertson was born in Norseman, Western Australia in 1964. He studied painting at the Western Australian Institute of Technology, graduating with a BA in 1984 and was awarded a Master of Arts from the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales in 1992. He obtained a PhD from Curtin University in 2018. Robertson has a consistent practice as a painter and exhibited extensively at Galerie Dusseldorf, Perth and more recently at The Art Collective WA. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions nationally and internationally.
Robertson’s paintings engage directly with the natural environment. The phenomenon of a constantly changing environment is reflected in his plein air approach. The process of working from direct observation is a stabilising factor through his changing preoccupations that include painting both architecture and the human figure. The expression of Robertson’s work converges with representation as mutually compatible concerns. The ‘expressivity’ of geology forms an important part of his work. Nature is, in this sense, in collaboration with the artist and not a passive subject. The accidents of process, the acute scrutiny and responsiveness to the conditions of the site all contribute to embedding feeling into observation.
My time at Heathcote
This residency offered a chance to reflect on some different concerns to my usual practice. One thing in particular, the representation of depth in painting, came fully into focus.
The residency has become an opportunity to explore stereopsis (binocular vision) in various forms through painting. Paul Cézanne is one of the few artists whose work incorporates the fact that we see the world with two eyes, using a broken brushstroke technique to represent the ambiguities inherent in having two slightly different views of the world. Though most are familiar with Victorian stereoscopes, 3D Movies and red and blue anaglyph images, my attention is on dismantling depth as an expressive element of a painting. I have always been surprised how few painters have worked with this obvious quality.
Though objects can be touched as solid, visually they shift, become transparent with parallax and present perceptual ambiguity particularly seen when close up. If you look through a window at the freeway across the river for instance, the window frame itself appears to disintegrate. This unfused view of the world rather than single unified view is the starting point for these paintings of an idyllic Heathcote landscape which does not fully integrate or fuse together.
The first paintings incorporate both a left view and a right view through the studio windows combined into one image. Presenting these different views simultaneously is not an abstraction, but an extension of realism. The light streams into the studio, sliced into vertical strips, cancelling out some bits of the image and adding rhythms to other parts.
In the next painting, I wanted to go further into the actual depiction of depth. I chose the long hallway of the residency studio for this reason. The painting is a right eye and a left eye image painted next to each other making a ‘cross-eyed pair’ as a way of representing depth. It is painted from life–adding to the challenge of focusing on what each eye is seeing independently. Though it is not necessary to see it cross-eyed in 3D (the subtle shifts in parallax can be noticed anyway), the fact that it really works like this is extremely satisfying because it is the outcome of a hand-made process, especially when the actual depth of the hall ‘clicks in’.
All the paintings were made with a limited palette of either 4 or 5 colours, including black and white. In the workshops I emphasised this as a way of helping the participants to simplify their painting process. Working outside with limited time, economy and inventiveness become essential working traits.
My practice shifted focus as the residency progressed from working inside to going outside to the river to paint and draw. Because it was the end of winter (Djilba) I used the rain as a subject, rather than an annoying disruption, in my painting. As my working method became increasingly simplified, something else ‘clicked in’ to my perception of the landscape. I realised that I was no longer editing things out by framing, cropping or composing pictures, but that my perception of the landscape had opened up–the potential for new subject matter was expanding.
I am grateful for this opportunity to explore some of these new things through my work in the studio space. I particularly enjoyed my conversations with the staff, artists and general public during my time at Heathcote.
By Kevin Robertson