In a departure from his cinematic figure paintings from the 80s, for his current exhibition at LYNCH THAM, Walter Robinson has created a new series of paintings based on common fashion promotional photographs. Referenced from a variety of sources, such as department store flyers, newspapers, marketing emails and promotional catalogues, the figures rely on viewership and reaction. Far from passive, they reach out, and disrupt familiar responses. With a revision and parody of forms their designs converge with the motifs of modernist abstraction and subvert its pretentions to reach a leveling effect. They propose a happy, healthy and harmonious world; a utopia that entwines things and products, interiors and exteriors.
Walter Robinson captures clothing, packaging and advertising styles, which give us a pop culture image bank that expands through many eras. In this newest series of advertisements from Bergdorf Goodman, Lands’ End, Macy’s, Target and JC Penney, his paintings segment and define their audience by gender, age and social role, with an implicit statement toward women, men, mothers, or professionals. They contain markers of season, age and youth. As a whole, the exhibition creates a middlebrow, peculiar, imaginative universe of non-descript faces and prescriptive smiles. He alerts us to the dynamic of advertisements not selling things, but selling concepts. The reference to pop art creates a mirroring effect, causing the viewer to evaluate this effect on his or her own lifestyle.
The names of the paintings are telling of Robinson’s attitudes toward the subjects. The image of a reclining woman in a one-piece swimsuit titled, Lands’ End Swimming in Confidence, gives a mature personality to the otherwise typecast, laughing model and gives classic reference to the reclining nude. Sun Surf and Style the Swim Tee Ride the Wave, a more suggestive image of a girl in a t-shirt and bikini, exudes more sexuality. Translated from the catalog image through Walter’s lens, this work leaves us with that familiar tone of his work. Other titles are more telling of the items being sold as he focuses on the season of the attire or the idea of going back to school. Lands’ End Friends and Family, an image of four models wearing heavy coats, hats, and gloves represents winter. While an image of four young boys, Target D-Signed and Shaun White, represents the current younger generation.
His interjection of art historical references also reveals a deeper intention. An image of three folded shirts, Lands’ End Men’s Long Sleeve Flannel, can be reduced to Ellsworth Kelly’s brightly colored squares. A painting of a pair of galoshes cites Van Gogh's famous painting of a pair of weathered shoes. Van Gogh’s boots have been the focus of a series of art historical and academic philosophical discussions, featured in Heidegger's 1935, “Origin of the Work of Art,” Meyer Schapiro's 1968, “Still Life as a Personal Object,” and Derrida's 1978, “Restitution of the Truth in Pointing.” In Robinson’s version, the smooth, new, red Lands' End galoshes reminisce about Heidegger's notions of a universal essence, Schapiro's idea of the artist's presence in the work, and Derrida's fancies of the interlacing of things and products, of insides and outsides.
Whether looking at his earlier images of desire, stemming from 1950s illustrated covers of pulp paperbacks, his paintings of food, liquor and beer bottles, or now at his promotional fashion images, Robinson’s style, brushwork, immediacy, and post-modernist intentions are recognizable constants in his work. Where abstract art transcends the material world, Robinson’s work uses the material world to remind us that art is culture.