…‘they happen upon a foreign beach in jubilant anticipation of refuge and shelter’
In this exhibition of work by Robinson RR, come prepared to peel away layers of meaning while on your way encountering medieval texts and sermons, ultimately leading you into the mists of ancient Greek mythology because this is a journey into the soul and conscience of us all.
’Beautiful Lies and Ugly truths’ at the loft Gallery, is a body of work for our era and time immemorial, exposing through visual art and sculpture, the generational injustices meted out to the dispossessed, begetting as we see today, a cycle of trauma and heartbreak. At one there is both the timeless beauty of a world that shrouds cruelty and where we as humans sit among the detritus of fakery, propaganda and war, pedalled as it is still, by the glib architects of our society.
So, ‘Who do you serve?’
Each work is a perfect entity of considered care and meticulous choice. Nothing is in excess, the elements pared to essentials. Both liberated and controlled, process is delivered through the selection of the found, the transformation takes place as it turns from one thing to another, intellect is brought to bear on the concept behind the work, and the ability to create beauty is applied. As a viewer we see the artist’s immediate joy in the pleasures of manipulating media, of choosing, honing, carving, questioning and refining. But an innocent landscape holds its ugly truths too.
This show could not be more pertinent and contemporary to our human condition in 2022, reeling as we do in a world, where child-like, we search for trusted adults. Just like the abandoned cargo of refugees, swilling in a sea of propaganda, innocents among the shadows of conscience, flickering in the fractious wind of lies. Two sculptures to the peril of refugees sit like stern and prow, mastheads to the show, flanked on either side by the complement of the entire manifest.
On approach, witness first the gentle deception of impressionistic painting and the primal human release of engagement with visceral media, pure pigment, impasto, applied with generosity, smeared, scraped back showing its secrets beneath, it’s previous incarnation now hidden from view.
This is the ‘Driftwood Sketchbook’, a collection of small works which initiate the journey of thought, and the viewer can be lulled to a comfortable place where they can safely witness nothing that might disconcert.
The beauty is there, the artists’ age-old alchemy of turning a surface, through pigment mixed with media into aesthetic representation. The artist’s spell is to reel you in on recovered flotsam, with seductive rich colour, or the hues of a cold spring day, to make you believe you see an Orkney landscape, a night sky over a loch, maybe the very same sky that hosts the stars that might be their only guide to safety.
Because all of this work is about ‘them,’ our discarded human neighbours. ‘Them’, the pin like figures on a precarious boat awash in a foreign element, mocked by their bright ‘life’ jackets, red and yellow. ‘Them’, that our modern day Canutes stand before, mouthing their platitudes on the shores and borders of Europe, ‘denying the flow which is neither sustainable nor humane…’
The seam of ugliness beneath the seeming beauty.
‘The Toy box’ has all the heartbreak of innocence trampled, destroyed, discarded, the piece fashioned itself from the found flotsam that could be from such a wreck. The jigsaw jointing of the created surface instructs the composition onto which the washed-up is recreated, given new life, a new story of repeated old stories, a different meaning in a parallel existence. The tidal pull of colour against bare wood-grain and oh, that the flotsam of a tiny toddler on a tourist beach could have such a resurrection.
‘The Sailors Ditty box’ continues this theme, with directional grain leading the eye to an abrupt flash of colour, a coin appears to bury a drowned sailor, a fragment of once sound hull, shuttered among many broken planks and a disturbed sextant rocking beneath a celestial constellation.
‘Hope in the face of a Hostile Shore,’ transposes the viewer to the frail perspective of the sinking refugee, still glimpsing beyond, almost unattainable the faint out-line of maybe a hill, maybe land, but in between a boiling cauldron of turbulent bloodied water and sinking below.
The Devils Decalogue is a series of prints, listing a set of demonic commandments constructed for those seeking to ‘satisfy a lust for ascendency and dominion over others’. This is for the duplicitous purveyors of modern evil and the list is frighteningly similar to the inglorious news-reel headlines we hear daily, but here again made deceptively comic, until invited in, you uncover the meaning beneath the immediate image.
The prints are alluring, in the simple starkness of the images, as all the while we peer into inverted and obliterated texts, trying to decipher the worthy sentiments of the sermons beneath. But they are drowned out, by the trampling printer’s block of opaque red and black ink over the measured typeset that whispers insistently that we should show care towards the poor. These wavering sentiments are superimposed by the clown-like corvidae, squawking their confident lies far and wide, next the hapless scape-goat with his doleful eyes of subjugation, then the avaricious octopus embracing its greedy hoard with glee. Lastly upturned canoes, black awash in blue, frail as feathers. On each level the prints tell a different tale, threading a common theme together, with a juxtaposition of bold declamation in limited colour, judiciously offset with pin pricks of gold leaf, a shaft of opulent respite.
The prints lead us on a dance from humour to horror and we scratch at the surface uncovering the ugly vein of self-serving hypocrisy they declaim.
In its totality, this show is multi layered, visceral and heart-wrenching. It entices the viewer gently at first through aesthetic pleasure, assured handling of all the different media, and leads the viewer below to the uglier sub-text of our times, inviting us to confer on the sickening repeat of callous horror we visit on those in need, left to perch, cling and ultimately become submerged in a vortex of lies and shattered lives.
When the world is in chaos, there is even greater need for art that ‘speaks’ for the common collective rather than the individual narcissist. Art does not use the language of 24/7 rolling news, it finds a different level, another vein in which to cast its shaft of communication and understanding. Because every piece in this collection comes from a place of passion and empathy and is driven by bearing witness to injustice, it offers the viewer an artistic and secular confessional, a place where we can go to communicate our collective sadness, commune our impotence, but also share the touch stones of a better us.
Meet the elements of these works as you find them, but be open also to let yourself be taken on a journey you did not expect and be assured as you embark that there are still those in our midst who can discern the truth from lies. In these times in which we live, we all cling, like refugees to the beauty of a thin line of hope.
A View from Orkney: Beautiful Lies and Ugly Truths is on at the Workshop and Loft Gallery, St Margaret’s Hope till 17th of May.