If you haven't seen Emil Robinson around lately, it's because he's across the pond.
Robinson is in London putting together a new body of work and trying to break into the gallery scene there. He jumped at the chance to go abroad when his fiancée, Catherine Richards, a University of Cincinnati architecture graduate student, received a co-op in exhibition design there.
I caught up with Robinson during an online chat interview last week. He typed his answers from in an Internet café in the hip neighborhood of Camden while taking a break after a morning of gallery hunting.
"I am bringing little paintings around in a briefcase with resumes and CDs of recent work," he wrote. "I guess I am a door-to-door salesman."
That kind of tenacity has paid off for Robinson. A recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati's M.F.A.
program, he is building a phenomenal reputation. His graceful, nuanced paintings have been well received locally at venues such as Manifest Gallery and The Carnegie. Heike Pickett Gallery in Versailles, Ky., and Daniel Brown in Cincinnati represent his work, and he's already garnered New York City representation with Gallery Henoch. And this year Robinson received the prestigious $12,500 Elizabeth Greenshields grant, a no-strings international award for young painters and sculptors.
When asked how the grant has changed the way he thinks about painting, Robinson replied, "It has made it easier to dream. I can think up all kinds of work ... and know that I have a little less pressure to make things that look just like what I have always made. I think that is what grants do very well. They allow an artist ... time to create work that is new and a little uncomfortable. They invest in growing pains as it were. It is harder though, because with change comes indecision and dead ends and challenge."
Robinson's new environment has affected his work as well. His paintings have become smaller because he's had to set up a studio in his bedroom.
"Lodging is so expensive here that I cannot afford a separate studio," he said. "I have to force myself to concentrate while working all day in the same place I go to bed at night."
In addition to being moved by Francis Bacon's paintings at the Tate Britain, Van Eyck's "Arnofini Wedding" at the National Gallery and Nan Goldin's photography, Robinson noted the odd clash of high versus popular culture.
"London has at once some of the most critical discussion on art currently, and at the same time some of the most overblown, commercially hip bullshit," he said. "For example, there is a wonderful engagement with painting here as a medium of constant reinvention. Yet when I get on the subway I am handed the London Lite newspaper that will cover Britney Spears and the recent million-dollar price tag on the street artist Banksy."
Robinson returns to Cincinnati later this month, and it will be fun to see where his work is headed. Currently, his paintings depict everyday objects and the intimate space of his small London apartment. Future plans include combining paintings with installation and video, in part inspired by Richards, who according to Robinson "is a terrific artist who works in drawing, sculpture and video. The courage to branch out in my art practice comes directly from her."
But what's the first thing he wants to do when he gets home?
"I want to play some mean basketball at the UC rec center and see my family," he said. "I also cannot wait to get back to a large studio with good tools!"
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