BAF is pleased to host Robert Russell as our summer artist-in-residence. Based in LA and a graduate of both the Rhode Island School of Design and the California Institute of the Arts, Robert has always been skilled at drawing but felt he “wouldn’t be a real artist until he could paint,” a self-imposed goal which set him apart from his peers as one of the few painters in his graduating class. Painting has remained his only medium, and although much of his work uses photography, Robert considers photographs to be a material with which to create his paintings, like paints or brushes. Robert takes his subject matter primarily from internet image searches and has always been interested in the way that image searches collapse meaning. They function as an endless stream, often bringing together unrelated images without intention or discretion. Like the multiplicity of an image search, he began designing exhibitions instead of singular pieces.
Amateurs, his most recent large exhibition at LAXART, is a series of paintings Robert has made of amateur pornography stills found through internet image searches. Robert has always felt drawn to paintings that sit on the edge of cliché and in amateur pornography, with it’s contrived, repetitive poses of the actors, he found such a subject. Over time, the bodies seem to blur together, and what engages the viewer is the details in the background. A stuffed bear on a desk off to the side, for example. The clock on the wall behind a woman’s torso. In his residency at BAF, Robert began to study these objects and reimagine them as still life pieces. When transformed into the sole subject matter, these previously benign objects become infused with meaning. They seem to take on an importance, one suddenly profoundly personal. A simple doorknob, a towel strewn in a sink bowl, a framed picture of a loved one on a nightstand, a kettle and electric outlet. These objects belong to someone, and with only the occasional leg or shoulder peeking into the side of the frame to hint at the original pornographic context of the images, we are compelled to wonder: why were these objects chosen to paint? whose are they? what is their story?
Robert’s work is at once precise and gestural, with soft blurry edges and yet with so much accuracy in the details. His paintings are reminiscent of masters such as Fantin-Latour but with a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour to them that is provocative and engaging to the viewer. Stay tuned for Robert’s exhibition dates later this year, as this is not a show to be missed.
Text by BAF Intern Alexandra Best