The Eager Ones, 1979
Walter Robinson, the painter, critic and former editor of Artnet Magazine, is currently having a show at the newly re-opened Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in New York City. Titled “Paintings and Other Indulgences,” it is the first full survey of Robinson’s paintings—it features 94 works made between 1979 and 2014—and was curated by Barry Blinderman.
Robinson, who, according to the exhibition’s press release, addresses “the collision of capital and everyday cravings in a media-saturated world,” is an unassuming yet influential art world figure. His pulp fiction inspired images of sexy doctors and nurses came years before Richard Prince’s nurses, and he made his first “spin” paintings at age seven, beating Damien Hirst by decades. Robinson the critic coined the very apt and funny phrase “Zombie Formalism,” while making salient points about the vapidity of art made for the speculative market.
The Post-Pop imagery that established Robinson’s reputation is both affectionate and funny. Robinson has a genuine passion for mainstream American culture—and its relative blandness—and for the “normcore” acoutrements of American fashion.
John Seed Interviews Walter Robinson
Walter Robinson
Walter, where and how did you grow up?
I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which though it may seem like a “western” or “southern” state was in fact Suburbia, USA, or at least it was in my lily-white neighborhood. Ranch-style houses, green lawns, shopping centers. We rode bikes without wearing helmets, and played baseball in the vacant lots.
My father was a civil engineer who worked for Dupont, my mother raised me and my three younger siblings, and later went back to work as a social psychologist. High school was like high school everywhere — S.E. Hinton did a good job capturing the Tulsa scene in her book “The Outsiders,” which Francis Ford Coppola made into a movie. Ever see that? Also “Rumblefish.”
Amy’s Veggie Burger
When did you know you were an artist? 
When I turned 60?
Actually one of my earliest memories is being the kid in kindergarten who could draw. I’d draw high-noon showdowns. The sheriff wore a star and the bad guy a black bandanna. I remember putting both the star and the bandana on one character, which must have been the beginning of my avant-garde career.
Another early memory is my discovery of abstraction at age 7 in 1957, when I made my first spin painting on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ.
Amboy Dukes, 1981
Tell me about getting started as an artist and your early days in the East Village
The 1980s, when my painting career really began (in the ‘70s I was experimenting with super-8 films, and publishing Art-Rite, our own ‘zine), are basically a blur. I remember borrowing a friend’s loft to paint a series of five large — 9 x 9 ft, and 9 x 12 ft. — paintings on dropcloths for the 1983 Terminal Show in Brooklyn. They hung like great banners from a pedestrian bridge that crossed the huge atrium of the concrete Art Brut building. That’s not much of an anecdote. Maybe Carlo McCormick could give you a better one: he was an East Village celebrity and I was his driver.
I had shown my paintings first at Metro Pictures in SoHo, but then I met and started hanging out with the gang in the East Village, and when the dealers there — like Piezo Electric and Semaphore Gallery — asked me to show, I went ahead and did it. Perhaps I should have focused more on Metro, but what the hell, we exhibited freely in group shows at various galleries, in exhibitions at nightclubs and bars. I realized that the East Village had really come of age when Carlo McCormick arranged a series of 10 one-night shows at the Limbo Lounge on East 10th Street. If ten artists could drag their stuff to that coffee shop, install it for a day and then take it away, making room for the next artist, I knew that the East Village had energy to burn. 
Lube Lands, 1985
You have said you are into “norm-core.” Tell me about what that means in regards to your paintings.
Normcore is actually a word from the fashion industry, and it refers to clothes with no real style. Notable would be Lands’ End and L.L.Bean, I think, simple middle-class gear with no pretense towards chic or vanguardism. The advertisements for this kind of clothing, either mail-order catalogues or newspaper inserts (and now emails), appealed to me as a kind of anti-art, and anti-kitsch, too — in other words, the least desirable, most transitory kind of imagery you could think of, something that was practically invisible. So I started using these bland fashion shots as the source for figurative paintings. It’s a special type of imagery — models selling clothes.
Plaid Shirt
They connect to the viewer, they instigate a back-and-forth dynamic that is typically different and more aggressive than ordinary paintings, which just sit there on the wall to be looked at. The imagery has already been designed — the outfits have been designed, the models have been made up, the poses have been perfected. It’s market-ready. In addition this material is segmented by season, by age, by gender. So you can have girls selling down coats and knit caps in winter, or women selling bikinis in the summer, or men selling suits at any time. The body is also segmented in these advertisements by the various products they’re selling; you have images of men’s shorts, for instance, or ladies’ shoes.
An example in the retrospective at Deitch is “Shoes,” 2014, which shows a row of tasseled loafers — they could be Tod’s, I don’t remember — in various colors. It’s like Ellsworth Kelly. Another subcategory of the normcore paintings are the paintings of folded shirts. For me they were an excuse to make an essentially abstract painting, a painting with stripes or colorful geometric shapes. The white shirt is supposed to be like a Robert Ryman.
Peter Schjeldahl says that your work has a sense of “innocence” about it. Is he right?
Whatever Peter says, I agree with.
Vick’s Vaporub
As a critic you have lamented the “market model.” Do you have any hope that the model is changing for the better? 
Did I lament the market model?
Actually, I think as a critic I took more interest in the market than most other commentators, who tend to dismiss it in disgust. In fact it’s fascinating, the interplay between esthetics, art history, the construction of opinion and the art market. I like to think of auction prices, say, as an arbitrary but clear measure of the value of an artwork. It’s a completely different standard than critics’ opinions of an artwork’s quality, which is very subjective and uncertain. Most of the time, the opinions of most art lovers are being formed and constrained by market forces they’re not even aware of.
What’s that Marxian saying; “Better attend to the invisible hand of the market, because the invisible hand of the market is certainly attending to you!”
Spin Paintings
Whose work do you like right now? 
Oh, well, when I was an editor and art writer, I was allowed to like many many things, it was my job to be open-minded. Now that I’m an artist, I have no interest at all in anything by other artists. 
Installation View
What are your personal interests and causes outside the realm of art? 
Vote the chick not the dick! 
Anything else that needs to be said? 
Be sure to see it: the exhibition is on view through Oct. 17.
Exhibition View
Walter Robinson: Paintings and Other Indugences (A Retropsective)
Curated by Barry Blinderman
September 17 - October 22, 2016
Jeffrey Deitch Gallery
18 Wooster Street
New York

Now on my HuffingtonPost blog: Walter Robinson: A Passion for Normcore. photo by Ayn S. Choi


Dina Brodsky: ‘The Secret Life of Trees’

Tree #80, 8.5×11.5″, oil ond ballpoint pen on paper, April 3d, 2016
While pregnant with her son, artist and miniaturist Dina Brodsky began drawing trees as a way to keep making art while no longer painting. Selected works from the portfolio of 126 images that resulted are now on view at New York’s Bernaducci.Meisel Gallery, running concurrently with a show by Dina’s sister Maya. Executed primarily in ball-point pen, along with traces of other media, Brodsky’s trees present a dazzling array of formations and textures.
They are both a diary and a rumination on the infinite variety of nature.
John Seed Interviews Dina Brodsky

Dina Brodsky

Tell me a bit about where and how you grew up
I was born in Belarus, but my family immigrated to the US in the early 1990s and my formative years were spent in Massachusetts, between Boston and Amherst, where I attended college. As to how I grew up, I read a lot and compulsively made lists of the things I read about. My family talked a lot: I suppose that between talking, reading and list-making I became the person that I am.

Dina’s sketchbook

When did you realize you were an artist?
My first week at university, at 3am, while working on a homework assignment for a foundations art class that I took because I thought it would be an easy way to pass the time before I could drop out of university and hitchhike around Europe, which was my plan at the time. It was a charcoal self-portrait: I had never used charcoal before, and wasn’t particularly good at it, but I was more absorbed in the portrait than I had been in anything, possibly ever. That was when I realized that this is what I want to do, for as many hours as possible, every day of my life, this is who I want to be. That was almost exactly 16 years ago, and I still feel this way.
I ended up hitchhiking around Europe as well, mostly to draw old buildings and go to museums.

“Secret Life of Trees”, day 106 out of 126, ballpoint pen on paper

What kind of experience did you have at the New York Academy and who were your mentors?
The New York Academy was an absolutely amazing place. It was everything I ever wanted from my education, and, after my undergraduate years, where I had very little guidance in the kind of art I wanted to learn to make, it was a sort of epiphany. I was incredibly hungry for information, and both the professors and my fellow students were incredibly knowledgeable, hard working, and had similar beliefs about what constitutes art that I did. As for mentors, all of the professors were fantastic.
Wade Schuman was one that was particularly inspirational, for the scope of his knowledge, as well as simply how much he cared, both about art and his students.

Tree #18, ballpoint pen on paper, 3.5×5.5″, August 26th, 2015

How did you decide to begin your series of trees?
A lot of my sketchbook drawings through the years are from long distance cycling trips I have taken, where I would mostly camp in the forest. Trees were a good thing to sketch as a warm-up in the morning, and I have a lot of them in my sketchbooks. The tree drawing project I just finished “The Secret Life of Trees” began when I was pregnant the summer before this one, and was getting progressively less mobile (and unable to use oil paint).
I started drawing from my sketches and photos I took while traveling. Then people I knew—friends and family at first, then people I only knew through social media—started sending me photos and stories of their favorite trees -some sent poems, as well as tree related traditions specific to their part of the world. The project continued after my son was born, as a way to vicariously see bits of the universe I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. In a way it was a sort of tree diary of that year of my life, during which my life changed dramatically.

Tree #55, ballpoint pen and gouache on brown handmade paper, 4×6″, January 17, 2016

Your trees are done mainly in ballpoint pen: how did you choose that medium and how do you make it work for you?
Honestly, ballpoint pen is the only drawing tool that I’m comfortable with. It’s been my favorite and only sketching instrument for over 10 years, although these are my first ballpoint drawings outside of my sketchbook. I like the level of control you can get with ballpoint, also the fact that it doesn’t allow for erasure creates an immediacy of sorts: I have to truly focus on the drawing in front of me.

Tree #60, ballpoint and white gel pen on paper, 4.5×8″, January 28th, 2016

Tell me about one image in particular
Tree #60: These are poplar trees from France, sent my way by the painter Brian Neish, who I have never met in person, but corresponded with over the last few years. He sent me some photos of a poplar grove, along with some paintings he made of the same place. He also told me of an old tradition from the part of France he lived in: when a farmer’s daughter is born, he plants a poplar grove. Poplars take 16 or so years to reach maturity, and, when a daughter reaches 16 and is considered of a marriageable age, the poplar grove becomes her dowry.

Tree #96, 5.5×8″, ballpoint pen, watercolor and gouache on paper, May 21st, 2016

What have you learned while working on this series?
I learned that I work best, and think most creatively when given a reasonably strict structure within which to operate. the project evolved organically throughout the year, growing—sort of like a tree itself—in directions I wanted to explore, experimenting with different varieties of trees, different textures of paper, different mediums, as I started to add watercolor, gouache and finally oil to the ballpoint.
Also that the deeper you go into a subject, the more interesting it becomes- the more I drew the trees, the more I learned about them, I started seeing the trees around me in an entirely new way.

Tree #81, 5×5″, ballpoint pen on paper, April 4th, 2016

Tell me a bit about your life and interests outside of art.
Right now my life outside art is mostly centered around meeting the various needs of a very small child. Before that, my interests vaguely revolved around reading, cycling and lurking (which is the way I think of just observing the world and people around me). All of these feed the art I make, also, other than reading, my sketchbook has always accompanied me during my lurking and cycling.
Is there anything else you would like to mention? I think it is my sketchbooks, more than anything else that have shaped the way I see the world. All of my thoughts, observations, travel and ideas end up as my sketchbook pages, which in turn inform my finished work.

Dina sketching

Dina Brodsky
Secret Life of Trees
8 September - 1 October 2016
37 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
Between 5th and 6th Avenues
3rd Floor