The awesome work of Robin Eley has been featured twice on Empty Kingdom. His hyperrealism is gripping and multifaceted. Check out his interview:
Please tell us your name, home town and what you had for lunch yesterday.
My name is Robin Eley, I live in Adelaide, South Australia and yesterday I had Chorizo and Borlotti Bean Soup for lunch.
Why, as a painter, have you chosen to pursue realism? Photorealism specifically? Is it honest to you? Accurate? How would you describe photorealism?
I’ve never personally ascribed any definition to the way I paint. In part I think it is because the process and outcome is authentic to who I am and I am not at all concerned with adhering to constraints of an artistic genre. In the past I have attempted to paint in a more expressive style, but for whatever reason the painting felt more like performance than a genuine connection with the work. While the traditional photorealists concerned themselves primarily with the replication of a photo (i.e. the artist acting as camera), I employ realism to both bolster the concepts I am exploring in my work and to facilitate a more intimate interaction between the art and the viewer.
As far as realism goes, would you consider photorealism to be the ultimate manifestation? Or do you believe realism has farther to go? Where can it go from photorealism?
I don’t believe there is an ultimate manifestation of realism. One could argue that photorealism most accurately captures reality, but it is a reality already translated through the lens of a camera. Alternatively, one could argue that painting from life in a bravura style best captures reality as it is a genuine connection between artist and subject and therefore the painting is infused with a life and energy that one painted from a photo never could. These are all valid arguments, but none of them really answers the question in a definitive way. I do believe realism can go further, but it’s got nothing to do with technique and everything to do with what we choose to paint. I am striving to get to a point where people comment about by concepts before my technique. This can only happen if I am giving equal time to both and always attempting to move forward with my work.
Do you think there is an equivalent emotional response to the depiction of a man’s penis and testicles to a woman’s vagina? Or are they treated with different levels of reverence? Is there a male organ that is regarded similarly to a woman’s breasts?
Depending on how each is depicted, the visceral response can be quite different. In art, the nude female form is more common, but whether it’s easier to look at because it’s more common or more common because it’s easier to look at, I really couldn’t say.
How do you choose your models? Is there something in particular that you look for?
There isn’t anything definitive reason I paint the people I do other than that, for whatever reason, find them visually interesting. It’s something I am always thinking about and on the look out for. So far I have been able to use friends or friends of friends, but it’s reaching the point now where I’m going to have to look outside my immediate circle and approach people who I don’t really know.
Why have you chosen to depict the human form wrapped in clear plastic? What does the use of something so non-biological represent to you?
For me the plastic is a representation of the authenticity we have lost as we gravitate towards impersonal forms of communication. It is the real emotion we prevent people from seeing as we manage our interactions and craft our personas.
What kind of challenge has painting the plastic wrapping posed? How has it changed the texture and the act of your pieces?
The challenges are many. When painting skin I am thinking primarily about two things, colour and value. And while this is no different when painting skin covered in plastic the equation is just that more difficult. Sometimes the plastic is perfectly transparent, other times it’s frosted and hazy and sometimes it can grab an intense, bright highlight. My solution was to forget about what I was painting and simply focus on the facets of colour, I would always step back to see the painting as a whole, but if tried to paint it as a whole I would have either failed or gone insane.
Do you prefer to paint with a black background or white? What differences did you face while painting A Loss of Density versus The Poet? What emotion were you feeling for each? What did the two different paintings mean to you?
I don’t really have a preference for black or white backgrounds. While they present some unique challenges the questions I am asking myself as I paint are always the same, colour and value. It’s interesting that you ask about these particular paintings as are paintings of dear friends of mine who happen to be a couple. A Loss of Density was important to me for many reasons. It was the biggest painting, and I felt therefore the most important, of my exhibition. It was also a painting of a friend who I met right at the time I decided to devote my life to my artwork, so in a way she has been there for the entire process. In this way, it felt very apropos to have her as the subject for this painting. The Poet was a slightly different approach in that it became a vehicle to get to know the subject better. This was the last painting I did for the show and was the only painting that addressed the viewer directly and the only one whose title referenced the subject. These were all deliberate choices inspired in part by the finality of it being the last piece, but also by the subject himself.
When you finish a painting do you feel like you’ve given up a part of yourself? Are you triumphant?
I definitely do not feel like I’ve given up a part of myself. In fact I feel as though I have added to another stitch to the tapestry of my cognition. My primary challenge and focus with my work is to know myself better, and with each painting I get a little closer to this goal. The feeling upon completion is a mixture of relief, happiness but any feelings of triumph are dulled by the knowledge that there is another painting waiting to be done. The feeling when I finish an entire exhibition though is pure exaltation.
What’s next for you?
In October I will be flying to the United States for the opening of a group exhibition I am participating in at the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art in Santa Barbara, California. After that I will return to Adelaide and continue work on my next solo exhibition to be held at Hill Smith Gallery in Adelaide, South Australia. In addition, I am currently in the process of developing relationships with galleries in the United States with the goal of a solo exhibition there in the near future. So to answer your question in the shortest possible way…. More painting!