By its very nature, the line is considered to be a building block of art-making. It is used as the first step in planning a creative endeavor, the structural scaffolding upon which the artist further builds. However, Robinson and Rota look past this view, realizing the full potential of the line, and allowing it to play a predominant role within their artwork. These two distinctly different artists share a creative implementation of graphic linework. In their works, lines become an effective and powerful tool for a complex yet straightforward, efficient visual communication and narrative. They utilize the naturally sturdy and rigorous nature of the line, making it a driving force within their art. Through these graphic techniques, their artworks possess a blunt, unwavering immediacy, managing to impart hard-hitting topically relevant subject matters while still retaining an emotionally resonant candor.
The prints and drawings of Robinson are inspired by a visit to Talking Sculptures of Rome, also known as The Congregation of Wits, specific ancient sculptures that were appropriated by the Roman community to serve as a physical repository for public postings, ranging from prayers, to poems, to political manifestos. Robinson takes the spirit of this aggregation of classical art, agitprop, and crude graffiti and applies it to his latest body of work. Robinson gathered 1,000 of his rough, exploratory sketches and compiled them into a series of prints. These adapted drawings fluctuate stylistically and thematically. While some of the subjects are delicately rendered with thin, clean narrow lines, and retain a sense of naturalism, others are bold, sketchy, and extremely gestural, sometimes imparting only the bare essence of what the drawing is representing. The wildly varying styles of draughtsmanship lend themselves well to the dizzying spectrum of subjects that Robinson depicts in his artwork. Nude figures, foodstuffs, modernist furniture, household items, fashion, masks, public figures, and tyrants of the past and present are deftly combined, creating a free association based bricolage that maintains a cohesive yet uneasy cultural narrative. At times, he combines short phrases written in a wide array of fonts, jumbled together. By juxtaposing the lettering against the printed sketches, the text is broken down into its essential elements, revealing just the lines themselves, but still retaining a hint of their original meaning. While mostly monochromatic, color is sometimes introduced in abstracted swaths and layered on in a manner similar to newspaper halftone printing. This serves to further highlight the more formalistic components of the linework while heightening the hectic nature of the compositions. Through his emphasis on expressive lines and clashing thematic and formalistic rendering, Robinson captures the riotous zeitgeist of popular and political unrest and distills disparate components into an unwieldy and simultaneously succinct form.
While Robinson uses the rough, bare-boned nature of linework to evoke the wider atmosphere of the contemporary epoch, Rota’s body of work is more particular. Rota turns his focus to precise moments and instances of contemporary political upheavals, injustices, and catastrophes. Often taking inspiration from the constant deluge of news in the digital age, he refines the cacophony of information into unique, pinpointed narrative scenes while embodying the bigger picture. Recently, Rota’s focus has turned to the ever-increasing cataclysmic ecological and human toll resulting from global warming. He composes scenes mimicking the vantage point of satellite images, allowing the audience to survey the crafted locations from an almost omnipotent, god-like perspective. Rota’s drawings are presented in stark black and white, making the detailed, vivid linework all the more present and visible. Settings of blasted, scorched earth, weather-battered abandoned buildings, increasingly crowded and shrinking enclaves of human inhabitation, and encroaching ominous expanses of water are all meticulously executed. Strokes of ink are bundled and cross-hatched to create thick, dramatic shadows and claustrophobic spaces, or sparingly utilized in small, yet highly kinetic tufts to impart crushing, expanding vastness and dread. This alternation between heavy, granular detail and scarce, negative spaces serves to heighten the weighty ambience of anxiety about the precarious current state of the world. These painstakingly intricate depictions signify a relatable, human story full of pathos, while being a dire warning about the scope and gravity of environmental trauma.
Robinson and Rota use the concise essence of drawing and linework to convey larger messages about the complicated, unstable, and politically restless present. The lines’ versatility and uncanny ability to relay scale, feeling, tension, and information in a elegantly candid way causes both artists’ works to have a clear intellectual and emotional impact on their audience.
Hard-Line will be on view at Equity Gallery from March 21st to April 13th, 2019.
About the Artists-
Andrew Cornell Robinson (b. 1968 Camden, NJ) is a contemporary artist who creates sculptural assemblages comprised of ceramic and mixed media juxtaposed with expressive prints and paintings that coalesce in works alluding to myth, ritual and memory.
He studied ceramic sculpture at the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland, and the Maryland Institute College of Art where he received a BFA. He was awarded an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, where he became interested with the intersection of memory, identity, politics and power.
He has been featured in many publications including Sculpture and Maake magazines, Huffington Post, Hyperallergic, Gay City News, Art Info, etc. His work was featured in “Correspondence between NYC & P-au-P,” a publication about the dialogue between artists from Haiti and New York City. He has participated in curatorial and research projects and was a participating artist in Debtfair a project in the Whitney Biennial. Robinson received an Edward F. Albee fellowship residency. He was a visiting artist with Urban Zen, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and a resident artist at the Agastya Foundation, in Bangalore, India. He is also the recipient of an Urban Glass Merit Scholarship. He is a member of the faculty at Parsons School of Design, and Greenwich House Pottery. Robinson lives and works in New York City.
Matt Rota is an illustrator, educator and author. He studied fine arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and illustration at the School of Visual Arts. His clients include The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Politico, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Marshall Project, ProPublica, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Center for Investigative Journalism, Zeit, and The Guardian, amongst others. He is an instructor at The School of Visual Arts, and the Maryland Institute, College of Art. His drawings and prints have been exhibited internationally. He is the author of two books on drawing from Rockport Press, The Art of Ballpoint, and Pencil Arts Workshop.