Chad Robertson: Disparate Collectives
Western Project, Culver City
September 10 to October 8, 2011
In this series of five recent paintings, Los Angeles artist Chad Robertson explores his world-view in his own distinct narrative form. The underlying objective is metaphoric. Robertson seeks to compose visual songs of contemporary life. Nuanced and complex, each painting is a composite of multiple interwoven images, seemingly unrelated to one another. The effect is almost collage like - a montage of juxtaposed stories – simultaneous, unlike the conventional linear narrative structure of film.
The subjects are intense, confrontational - often violent. In Untitled 23 (2011, oil on canvas over panel, 60 X 72 inches), a wrecking ball swings through what resembles a cathedral. Reflected in the ball, men run through an urban street scene, the flames from a dragon’s breath ripple across the canvas - a cacophony of disconnected vignettes. As in much of this series, bright cadmium yellow predominates this painting, infusing it with light and fire.
In Untitled 22 (2011, oil on canvas over panel, 60 X 72 inches), a series of images is superimposed on a huge iris, as if we are seeing from the point of view of this reflecting eye. Two figures walk in the pupil. Nearby, a pair of policemen lean out of a patrol car, guns cocked and ready, a man with a concealed face holds a gun, a couple lies in the grass. There is a ship in the harbor, masked men, and on the far right, half out of the frame, a shark - its jaws wide open. A diagonal crack is painted across the canvas.
Robertson extrapolates his material from his travels around the world. Natural disasters, political events - images in the news and old photographs are catalysts. Music serves as a sort of muse. Although the images are explicit, the artist leaves their interpretation up to the viewer. Explaining this, he writes, “The images become the words of a lyric or the sentence. It sets the scenario for the viewer to put together a story, but it’s important it’s their story.”
Robertson uses the eye as a element of his composition again, in Untitled 20 (2010, oil on canvas over panel, 48 X 60 inches). If he intends to give the viewer the latitude to interpret his work, we still see these images through two layers of filters – the artist’s perspective, and the implied refracted lens of this large close-up eye. Here, the eye seems to gaze on a miscellany of disturbing images – a gorilla’s head, the profile of a woman with her eyes closed, an urban skyline with tables, chairs and cars falling, a huge hamburger. A headless woman presses with her hands as if trying to get out, skulls lie in the foreground, flowers peaking through. Disparate, perhaps, but a common thread of turbulence and destruction pervades throughout.
War, death and chaos are prevalent themes in these works. In Untitled 24 (2011, oil on canvas over panel 48 X 60 inches) a wolf bears his fangs, one green eye glows, the elegantly articulated back of a man’s torso, forearm and hand emerge prominently on the right, intersecting an artillery belt. A tied-up figure lies in the foreground, a line of soldiers spread across the horizon. A radio and a helicopter propeller are woven in. Dashes of yellow and red, suggesting gunfire, overlay the entire canvas, infusing a dynamic sense of action and movement.
Meticulous in his technique, Robertson renders his paintings with exquisite detail. In conveying a sense of story, his work is reminiscent of the narrative style of medieval tapestries, flavored with a vernacular echoing contemporary graffiti. Influenced by De Kooning and Rauschenberg, Robertson gives the composite images within his paintings equal weight. However disparate, the images are interlaced with consistent motifs and layering, so they flow into each other, suggesting the interconnection among events. While Robertson may not be intent on documenting history, he is a chronicler of sorts, distilling the essence from selected events of our times.
Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings.
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