January 5, 2012

robyn r

It should come as no great surprise that artist Robyn R.'s preferred media for painting are organic: wood and human skin.  Her work embodies the parasitic and necessary relationship of life and vitality with death and decay.  It obscures the traditional lines of demarcation between pain and pleasure, the beautiful and the grotesque, and it forces us to dig in the dirt a little.  Nothing could be more natural, and, if you are of the correct mindset for it, more lovely.

I met Robyn in the woods.  In the cold, we hung her works (yes, most of them are skateboard decks).  We placed them in bare trees and laid them amongst dead leaves and dirt, and even as we did this, I began to notice, that, despite the colorful, often otherworldly images conjured from her imagination, it became difficult to distinguish the point where the paintings ended and the forest began: so well did they intermingle with the trees, the leaves, the dirt, with sun and with shadow.

As I stood in the forest with Robyn, amidst the barren beauty and boundless evidence of nature's perpetual reclamation, a lyric by Iron and Wine sprang into my mind. Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to.  The creek drank the cradle...I imagined muddy and angry seeming waters rising, softly absorbing the cradle, a birth in reverse, a watery lullaby, a grave.

For me, Robyn's work evokes the same feeling.  The ruthless, yet morally neutral brutality of nature is intricately woven into the fabric of our existence.  The rising creek is unable to not drink the cradle.  It can't alter its own path.  The vulture must pick at the carrion.  The worm must feed.  All that lives, must also, not live.  As part of this framework, we people can choose to be horrified and to look away, or we can realize that because we are lucky enough to be part of the cycle of death and life, each feeding the other, that there is beauty in all of it: the entire circle.  Robyn clearly has this vision.

I'm now quoting from Robyn's blog: When I first realized what death was I was 10 years old and  it terrified me. Since then it made me question everything I was taught and steered me on a quest that isn’t even over yet. Am I still afraid of it?  No, I’m inspired by it and it has helped me make some interesting things.  Everything returns.  

Everything returns.  Through layers of swamp, mud, sediment, rock, decomposed insects, animal bones, and lava, Robyn's paintings also return, as though spewed forth from the very ground beneath our feet, belched into the sky to mingle with fantastical skeletal, winged creatures, floating leaves and snow. Grime glistening in sunlight, if only for a fleeting moment.

We people may have forgotten that we are animals, but the ground which bears our weight, hasn't.  It's a difficult thing to articulate, but I believe that what Robyn is trying to say with her art is that the facade of humanity actually makes us less human: that the conventions we have fabricated to shield us from our own impermanence, have obscured us from our true selves.  We've created a false platform, a mirage above the dung beetles and the moss and rising creek.  Believing that we are standing on this platform, protected from the things we fear, we fail to see all truths, and, in our blindness, we make societies, clans, nations, religions, and wars.  All of these constructs are articles of exclusion, all derived from our "humanity," and our need to deny our own mortality.  We are trapped in a gauze of our own design, wrapped in partiality, fearing the unknown, and, at times, each other.

This may all sound gloomy, but it really isn't.  It's liberating and uplifting as you peel those layers of gauze away.  The more I force myself to examine the things I fear, the less frightening they become.  When I have less fear, I'm able to live in this day even more.  I can live by my senses and be more connected to others.  I can live more like a human being, and less like a human character.

I'm here today, and so is the scent of my dog's neck.  Let me breathe it.  I'm here today and so is my girlfriend.  Let me touch her hand.  I'm here today and so is curry.  Let me taste it.  I'm here today and so is the wind blowing through the treetops.  Let me hear it.  I'm here today and so is the bird on the perch.  Let me see it.  Robyn does, and it's in her work.  For that, and for the pleasure of having been able to spend a few minutes in the woods, on a cold Sunday, with her, I am very happy that she is a citizen of Porkopolis.

Visit Robyn at Mother's Tattoo:
See her canvases:
Her skate-decks:
Her paper:
Her skin:


  1. The decks are amazing! How can I acquire one (or more)?

  2. you got all of that out of a few paintings? wow. not that i disagree with the comments on life, death and the communal game that we all play, but i'm just not getting that from a few ribcages and sparrows.

    1. yes i did. thanks for reading, logan.